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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Matthew Weaver

PPE worth £1.4bn from single Covid deal destroyed or written off

Large number of boxes of PPE discarded on an area of land
Boxes of PPE discarded on an area of land near Testwood Lakes nature reserve in Calmore, England. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

An estimated £1.4bn-worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) bought by the government in a single deal has been destroyed or written off, according to figures described as the worst example of waste in the Covid pandemic.

The figures obtained by the BBC under freedom of information laws showed that 1.57bn items from the NHS supplier Full Support Healthcare will never be used.

They were part of a £1.78bn deal the firm struck with the government to supply masks, aprons, eye protectors and respirators in April 2020 at the height of the pandemic. It was the government’s largest PPE order during the pandemic, accounting for 13% of the government’s spend.

Out of a total of 2.02bn items provided by Full Support Healthcare in the deal, only 232m were sent to the NHS or other care settings, the figures showed. About 749m items have already been destroyed and a further 825m of excess stock is being considered for disposal or recycling, the disclosure revealed.

The shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, described the deal as a “staggering waste”.

He said: “We know that billions of pounds were wasted during the pandemic on corruption and incompetence by the Conservatives, but this is the worst example I have ever seen.

“£1.4bn on one contract, paying for PPE that was never used, and Rishi Sunak’s fingerprints are all over it. That is money that could have been used to pay the salaries of 37,000 NHS nurses.”

Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said it was “colossal misuse of public funds”.

She added: “This is just the latest in a series of damning revelations on the Conservatives’ record of mishandling Covid contracts.

“Instead of this troubling pattern of waste, shortcuts and lack of oversight, the public deserve transparency on the true cost of these failures.”

The health secretary, Victoria Atkins, said the £1.4bn figure was “not accepted” but her department has not provided an alternative estimate.

She defended the government’s procurement of PPE during the pandemic as “the right thing to do”. Challenged on the disclosure during a press conference on Tuesday, she said: “The whole country wanted us to get the PPE that our frontline staff needed both in healthcare and in social care, and we managed to procure billions of pieces of PPE equipment.”

In January, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed that of the £13.6bn spent on PPE during the pandemic, items worth £9.9bn had been written off as defective or unusable.

There is no suggestion that Full Support Healthcare, or its co-directors, Sarah and Richard Stoute, have done anything wrong.

The couple’s lawyers told the BBC: “Full Support Healthcare stock arrived quickly by summer 2020, much earlier than most and in larger quantities. It had either a two- or three-year shelf life. This means the PPE products are more likely to have passed their use-by date.”

The couple’s business is based offshore in Jersey, “solely to maintain privacy”, the lawyers told the BBC.

The couple and their company remain registered in the UK for tax.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the £1.4bn quoted.

“Our position on PPE stock is set out in the department’s annual accounts as audited by the National Audit Office. PPE was secured at the height of the pandemic, competing in an overheated global market where demand massively outstripped supply.

“Nearly half of all the remaining stock was sold, recycled, or donated by the department. In line with our reduction of storage and disposal strategy unused items will be turned into energy from waste which will see the department recoup further costs.”

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