The quantity of personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased by the UK government that is not fit for purpose is more than five times higher than previous estimates, according to MPs.
In a report the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said 2.1bn items of PPE – worth £2bn and out of a total of 32bn items bought during the pandemic – were unsuitable for medical settings.
The PAC said in January 2021 it was told by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that 1.3% of PPE was unfit for purpose, but as of 7 June 2021 this figure was in fact 6.8% and “unacceptably high”.
The report said DHSC was committed to making “best use of the large number of items which are unsuitable for medical settings” but MPs were concerned that “planning on how to repurpose them is not yet complete”.
The report said DHSC had estimated it required around 11.7bn items of PPE between June 2021 and May 2022 but it had ordered 2.7 times this amount. DHSC aimed to hold four months of safety stock but it had much more than this, including 13 years’ worth of eye protectors, six years of hand hygiene products and five years’ worth of gowns and clinical waste bags.
The PAC said the cost of storing PPE was around £6.7m a week, down on £11.7m a week in January 2021. In May there were 10,000 shipping containers of PPE still to be unpacked.
Government PPE procurement has been mired in controversy and the report said “repeated failure to provide a full rationale for key decisions is undermining public trust and accountability for the pandemic response”.
A separate report by the PAC on pandemic costs said the lifetime cost of government measures in response to Covid hit £372bn in May 2021.
Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “With eye-watering sums of money spent on Covid measures so far the government needs to be clear, now, how this will be managed going forward, and over what period of time.
“As well as monitoring procurement and its effectiveness through the next few years, the PAC will be watching this spending and risk for decades to come. If coronavirus is with us for a long time, the financial hangover could leave future generations with a big headache.”
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