Personal protective equipment (PPE) worth £2.8 billion is not fit for purpose and cannot be used by the NHS, a health minister has revealed.
Lord Bethell said 1.9 billion items of stock are currently in the “do not supply” to the NHS category.
He was answering a Parliamentary question from crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool around “faulty PPE” that has not met the required level of protection.
“As of June 10, 1.9 billion items of stock were in the ‘do not supply’ category,” Lord Bethell said.
“This is equivalent to 6.2% of purchased volume with an estimated value of £2.8 billion.
“We are considering options to repurpose and recycle items in this category which ensures safety and value for money.
“Discussions with suppliers are ongoing.”
Earlier this month, it emerged the Government is in dispute with several companies over £1.2 billion of PPE that has been deemed “sub-standard” or was undelivered.
At that time, Lord Bethell provided a written response to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lee, who had asked how much had been reclaimed from firms providing equipment found to be “not fit for purpose”.
The health minister replied: “The department is working through all its personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts to identify instances where products have not been delivered or failed quality tests and will seek to recover the costs for undelivered or sub-standard PPE.
“As of July 27 2021, the department was engaged in commercial discussions – potentially leading to litigation – in respect to 40 PPE contracts with a combined value of £1.2 billion covering 1.7 billion items of PPE.”
In July, it was reported that a million masks supplied to the NHS as high grade did not meet the correct level of protection.
The masks were assumed to be FFP3 type, which can be worn by staff in intensive care or when certain procedures are carried out that can generate aerosols, thereby risking the spread of Covid.
Tests carried out in February found that the masks failed FFP3 requirements.
Regarding these masks, Lord Bethell said in his latest written answer: “For all personal protective equipment (PPE), certification is checked through a technical assurance process before the products are released for distribution.
“Following information received from the National Health Service in February, we quarantined and recalled the affected products and reviewed the technical certification.
“As part of our investigation, we commissioned the British Standards Institution to test the masks.
“While the findings stated the affected masks failed to meet to FFP3 requirements, they passed all the testing requirements for an FFP2 respirator.
“The World Health Organisation recommends the use of N95 or FFP2 respirators for health workers performing aerosol-generating procedures – wearers should have been afforded protection.
“These masks are not recommended to be worn by patients. We have commissioned an independent root cause analysis investigation and we await the outcome.”
Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, said of the £2.8 billion worth of PPE: “Nursing staff who were put in harm’s way early in the pandemic because they could not access proper protective equipment will find this admission deeply insulting.
“Ministers have had repeated warnings about the quality of the equipment nurses are provided with and we have had repeated assurances that staff will be protected.
“With tens of thousands of nursing vacancies in England alone and staff already off sick because they have not been protected, this must be fixed as a priority.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “This glaring admission by health minister Lord Bethell is a searing indictment of the secretive fast-track fashion that many of the PPE contracts were awarded to ‘friends’ of the Tory establishment, something we have suspected for a long time.
“The Government should now use every tool as its disposal to ensure that the money is reclaimed for the hard-pressed taxpayer from the suppliers of this shoddy equipment.
“It is a national disgrace that NHS workers trying to care for us should be given equipment that has not protected them.
“This should not have been allowed to happen during a global pandemic and reinforces the need for the greatest transparency in the Government’s public procurement policy.”
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