The British government wasted most of the money spent on protective equipment during the first year of the pandemic, a report says.
The UK government accumulated Covid-19 personal protection equipment (PPE) worth a whopping £4 billion ($4.94 billion) that is deemed unusable and needs to be disposed of, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said in a report published on Friday. The Cabinet now plans to literally burn most of it, the report adds.
The government says the equipment will be burned to “generate power,” but the committee has criticized the approach, saying London has no “clear disposal strategy,” and the “cost-effectiveness and environmental impact” of the method raises concerns. The PPE cannot be used in the National Health Service due to its substandard quality, which does not meet the requirements set out for British healthcare facilities, the committee notes.
The issue is the result of a bigger blunder on the part of the UK Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) the report says, adding that it lost 75% of £12 billion ($14.81 billion) spent on PPE in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic to “inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements.”
The figures correlate to those presented in the Annual Report and Accounts presented by the DHSC in early February. The loss was equivalent to 5% of the Health Department’s entire annual budget, it was said at that time.
The “haphazard purchasing strategy” of the Cabinet during that period also led to a situation in which 24% of the PPE contracts awarded at that time are now in dispute because the products supplied were not fit for purpose. Also, one contract for 3.5 billion gloves was made with a manufacturer that now faces allegations of modern slavery, the report says.
The committee also expressed concerns over “inappropriate unauthorized payoffs made to staff by health bodies” during that time, adding that a massive NHS restructuring might see something like this “happening again.”
The committee’s head, Dame Meg Hillier, a lawmaker from the Labour Party, blasted the revelations in the report as “the most shameful episode [of] the UK government response to the pandemic.” She pointed to the fact that healthcare and social care staff had been left on their own at the start of the pandemic due to the lack of PPE. When the government tried to catch up with the rising demand, they ended up splurging “huge amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen” in the rush to acquire PPE.
“DHSC singularly failed to manage this crisis, despite years of clear and known risk of a pandemic, and the challenges facing it now are vast,” she added.
According to AP, the government denied it was planning to burn all £4 billion worth of PPE, and said that just £670 million ($835 million) of the equipment will be incinerated, since it is “unusable in any context” anyway. The rest will go to dentists, charities, transportation agencies, or other nations, it added.
Robin Walker, a minister of state at the Department for Education, said on Friday that “mistakes were made” at the beginning of the pandemic, but blamed them on the “totally unprecedented situation” the entire world was facing at that time.
When the figures of the losses suffered by the Health Department were first revealed in February, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting called them “inexcusable.”