Dominic Cummings left Downing Street in November 2020 © Getty Images
Dominic Cummings left Downing Street in November 2020 © Getty Images

UK health procurement branded a ‘smoking ruin’

18 March 2021

The Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) “total disaster” in procuring PPE led to the government’s decision to create a separate task force for vaccines, MPs were told. 

At an evidence session for the Science and Technology Committee, Dominic Cummings, the controversial former advisor to prime minister Boris Johnson claimed the DHSC had been a “smoking ruin” in terms of procurement.  

He said: "In spring 2020, you had a situation where the Department for Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that, you had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics.

“We saw the Department for Health had just an absolute total disaster in terms of buying: how it buys, how it procures, how it deals with science and technology. It is why we had to take the vaccine process out of the Department for Health.”

As a result, Cummings claimed the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, had advised that a separate task force should be established to manage the vaccine rollout.

Cummings said: “It's not coincidental that the vaccine programme worked the way it did. It's not coincidental that to do that we had to take it out of the Department for Health.

“We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister and say strip away all the normal nonsense that we can see is holding back funding.”

Cummings also criticised the EU’s vaccine procurement programme which he said “looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail”.

He added there must be an "urgent very, very hard look" by MPs at "what went wrong and why" during the pandemic.

During the evidence session on the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, known as ARIA, Cummings said the current government procurement system is an “expensive disaster zone”, and “horrific bureaucracy” in procurement must be stripped out.

“We've got a procurement system that was created by the EU framework and then gold plated by Whitehall. I and others said repeatedly before 2020, this system is an expensive disaster zone, and when it hits a crisis, it will completely fall over.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “From the start of this global pandemic we have worked tirelessly to source, procure and distribute PPE to protect our health and social care staff, with a tremendous contribution from UK manufacturers which is now providing us with continued resilience.”

Cummings left Number 10 in November 2020 following a reported power struggle.

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