Michael Gove has defended the Government’s stockpiling efforts as he said the UK’s supplies were designed for a flu pandemic, but all countries have faced a new virus.
The Cabinet Office minister acknowledged that the Government has not got every judgment right in its coronavirus response, although he said the country’s personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles were “explicitly designed” in accordance with the advice from its scientific advisers.
He added that the nature of coronavirus is different from a flu pandemic, telling MPs that ministers have responded by seeking to make sure they are in a position to “retool, refit and upgrade” their response – including PPE.
Mr Gove’s remarks came as he faced MPs to update them about public services as the country responds to Covid-19.
The SNP’s Cabinet Office spokesman, Pete Wishart, said: “Why were we so unprepared? Why were gowns, visors, swabs and body bags left out of the stockpile when it was set up in 2009?
“The Royal College of Physicians has found that 27% of doctors are re-using or have used their PPE; why are they having to re-use PPE?
He went on: “We all want to get behind this Government, to cheer it on when it is doing its best, but we also want it to admit when mistakes are acknowledged, when there have been shortcomings.
“So will the Secretary of State now be prepared to acknowledge his shortcomings and admit to some of these mistakes?”
Mr Gove replied: “The stockpile that we had before this pandemic was explicitly designed in accordance with the advice from the scientific advisers the Government has – Nervtag (the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) – and of course it was specifically for a flu pandemic.
“The nature of coronavirus is different from a flu pandemic, as we all know, and we, like every government across the world, have had to respond to this new virus by assuring not just with personal protective equipment, but in every respect, that we are in a position to retool, refit and to upgrade our response.”
Earlier, Mr Gove said of the Government’s response: “There will, of course, be further challenges ahead and I don’t shirk from acknowledging that we won’t, as a Government, have got every judgment right.”
For Labour, Rachel Reeves raised concerns over supplies for frontline staff and asked: “How can the Government claim to have delivered a billion items of PPE when this number included counting individual gloves and paper towels?”
Mr Gove said the Government has distributed 143 million masks, 163 million aprons, 1.8 million gowns and 547 million gloves, before noting: “Depending on the surgical setting, gloves are sometimes delivered in pairs or groups of four or in different consignments.”
Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said some agricultural employers were being too “picky” in selecting pickers.
Mr Gove replied: “I would hope that all employers will make use of the willing hands available. I’m not the most dexterous of members of this House but even I was able to help with tattie hawking when was younger, so all willing hands can help in our fields at this time.”
Earlier, he said: “UK workers can support our farmers to produce the food that we need, whether it’s picking asparagus or soft fruit or helping in other ways.
“We have had thousands of people who have stepped up to help our farming sector and it is vitally important work and I commend all those that are doing it.”