Centralised procurement 'held up supply of PPE'

9 March 2021

Ontario’s adoption of a centralised procurement system delayed the replenishment of the province’s PPE stockpile in the run up to the Covid-19 pandemic, an independent commission has heard.

The commission, which is examining the impact of the pandemic on Ontario’s care homes, was considering whether the provincial government should bear responsibility for deaths in the care system due to a shortage of PPE.

Covid-19 has caused the deaths of 3,743 residents of the care system and 11 staff members so far.

When the pandemic occurred health chiefs were unaware that the switch to a new centralised procurement system had held up the sourcing of new PPE.

By early 2020 so much of Ontario’s PPE stocks had expired that only 10% was estimated to be usable.

And what was left was intended to deal with an Ebola-like crisis rather than a coronavirus-type disease.

Provincial health minister Christine Elliott told the commission the government had expected PPE stocks to be replenished.

Commission co-counsel John Callaghan asked Elliott: “You never went to cabinet, you never went to anyone to suggest that the safety of Ontarians would require us to have a stockpile in the face of a pandemic? You never went and made that suggestion?”

Elliott said: “There was an expectation that it would be replenished.”

She added: “And that is what we were doing, [are] in the process of doing. But I was not aware that it had been slowed up by the central procurement. I anticipated that it was happening, but I did not know that it had been held up by that.”

The inquiry is also looking at whether the decision by premier Doug Ford to override the advice of his government’s medical experts and provide coronavirus testing to all Ontarians last spring overwhelmed the province’s lab system and contributed to more deaths.

In November 2020 the Ontario government announced a new centralised procurement agency, Supply Ontario.

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