The Government is currently spending around £6.7 million per week to store the UK’s stock of personal protective equipment (PPE), a senior Whitehall official has told MPs.
Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), said that the UK is currently holding around 12.6 billion items of PPE, such as masks, gloves and aprons.
He told the Commons Public Accounts Committee that this is more than what has been delivered to the front line in the pandemic so far, with a further 8.4 billion items on order and yet to arrive in the UK.
DHSC’s top civil servant defended the costs, telling the committee that this was better than the alternative of not having enough PPE for NHS staff, while the cost of storing the items has fallen.
“The current situation – we have bought approximately 32 billion items of PPE during the pandemic, to a cost of approximately £15 billion,” Sir Chris told MPs.
“Of those, 11.7 billion items have been distributed to the front line so far, 12.6 billion are held in the UK as central stock, and 8.4 billion is not yet in the UK, it’s on order from other parts of the world.
“I think today’s number, and of course these numbers go up and down, it’s costing us approximately £6.7 million a week to store our central stock of PPE.
“Now that has been falling quite fast, the equivalent number for January 21 was £11.6 million, so we’ve been making some considerable efficiencies on storage, but it remains a large cost.”
He said that purchasing of PPE was on the basis of “reasonable worst-case scenarios” that have only a 5-10% chance of happening.
“We have been in the lucky position that we have not been in the reasonable worst-case scenario, so we do expect to have more PPE than we in fact need,” he added.
“Although that causes us some challenges, it is of course considerably better than the opposite position, so we are very comfortable with the decisions that we took for stock for the reasonable worst case.”
He said that the department has been “ramping up” the amount of equipment produced domestically as the UK had been “heavily reliant” on manufacturing overseas at the start of the crisis.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee, which is looking at initial lessons from the Government’s response to the pandemic, heard evidence on Tuesday from senior Whitehall officials, including Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
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