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More than half of fast-track suppliers provided unusable PPE, report finds

More than half of suppliers who offered personal protective equipment (PPE) through the government’s VIP fast track provided unusable items, it has been revealed.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report, released on Wednesday, found the government had to pay millions to store PPE longer than expected, and there were “inconsistencies” between the volumes ordered and received.

He also said billions of items were unsuitable for frontline use, with some 1.5 billion in storage now past their best-before date.

More than half of suppliers who won contracts through the fast-track stream – where companies could be recommended by government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs, senior NHS executives and other healthcare professionals – had supplied unsuitable items.

Some of the reasons the PPE was not suitable were that it would take too long to assemble, concerns about modern slavery or missing documents.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said it is better to have more PPE than needed than not enough, and it is understood that estimates of what would be needed were made on a worst-case basis. scenario.

“The numbers are mind-boggling”

But Dame Meg Hillier, the Labor MP who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “The numbers are staggering – over 30 billion items of PPE received so far, with five billion more on the way and 3.6 billion items that cannot be used by frontline services.

“Storage alone has cost over £700m, with DHSC continuing to spend £7m a month storing PPE it doesn’t need. Regardless of early taxpayer forbearance of the pandemic, this will quickly wear thin if the DHSC can’t now handle the aftermath.

“The department urgently needs to get its PPE inventory under control and focus on protecting value for taxpayers. It needs to recover contract costs where it can, dispose of unusable PPE and reduce costly stockpiling.”

The NAO report detailed how DHSC awarded 394 contracts worth £7.9bn through two new supply chains. Of the 394, 115 went to 51 VIP lane providers and 46 did not pass the due diligence checks, which were only put in place from May 2020.

The report says DHSC paid suppliers £2.5billion upfront – before PPE was received – to “prevent contracted PPE from being gassed in transit”. Five of the upfront payment contracts, worth £19m, are at risk of not being delivered, according to the report.

Billions of items remain in storage

Of the PPE received, 17.3 billion items (55 per cent) have been sent to frontline staff, but 14.1 billion – worth £8.5 billion – remain in storage, either in the one of 50 warehouses, at suppliers, or in shipping containers. .

By November last year it had cost the government £737million to stockpile PPE. Some £436million was a penalty fee as DHSC could not get items out of shipping containers in time.

The report says the DHSC estimated it had 3.9 billion items of PPE it did not need, with another five billion to deliver, while spending around £7million a month on stockpiling the current stock.

Of the current unnecessary stock, the government “is trying to get rid of these items through sales (305 million items), donations to other parts of the public sector (253 million items) and recycling ( 232 million items)”.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to save lives, and we have delivered over 19.1 billion items of PPE to frontline staff to keep them safe. .”

Officials seek to recover costs from suppliers when contracts are in dispute.