Wes Streeting has accused the government of 'egregious waste' © Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Wes Streeting has accused the government of 'egregious waste' © Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Health chiefs 'burning £45m of unusable PPE a month'

9 May 2022

Taxpayers’ money is “going up in smoke” with over 800m NHS aprons being burned each month, according to the Labour Party. 

Wes Streeting, shadow secretary of state for health and social care, accused the government of “egregious waste” after research by the Labour Party found over 870m unusable aprons are being burnt each month at a cost of £43.5m.

The cost emerged after Jonathan Marron, director general of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, told the Public Accounts Committee in March 817m items of PPE worth £673m – 3% of the total bought during the pandemic – were not fit for purpose and would be written off. “Some of them are counterfeit. Some of them do not meet the standards,” he told MPs.

He said some unusable PPE had been converted into trays and binbags. “We have done some recycling and we will do more,” he said. 

“We will also need to use more traditional waste disposal methods, largely burning it to generate heat and energy. We are exploring that as well. We hope to move 15,000 pallets a month through these lead waste contractors.”

Marron said each pallet held 58,000 aprons.

A further 10% of the total amount of PPE purchased during the pandemic cannot be used by the NHS and is being given to schools or sold.

Marron told the the PAC, which is investigating the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) management of PPE contracts, 176 contracts worth £3.9bn were being “looked at for various concerns around performance”.

He said at the peak there were 30,000 containers of PPE but this was now down to 12,000 containers at various storage sites across the country.

Speaking on BBC’s Today programme, Streeting said: “Billions of pounds worth of PPE bought by the government during the pandemic was later found to be unusable. 

“I just think given the backdrop of the pressure on the public finances, but even more importantly the pressure on family finances right now, the idea that millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is going up in smoke is an insult to families who are paying their taxes, are paying higher taxes and struggling.

“I think what we have seen far too often in the pandemic was egregious waste, so there are big questions for this government to answer.” 

Labour is calling for an emergency budget and for the National Crime Agency to investigate PPE “lost to fraud and error”.

In February the DHSC admitted over £2.6bn worth of PPE purchased by the government was unsuitable for use in healthcare settings, while over £670m of PPE could not be used for reasons including it was defective. A further £750m of PPE was “in excess of the amount that will ultimately be needed”. Storing PPE was costing the NHS £500,000 a day.

The DHSC has been approached for comment.

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