The Department of Health and Social Care’s Annual Report shows that it wasted an eye-watering £9.9 billion on PPE in the financial year 2020-2021.
The figure, which the Good Law Project notes is more than it would have cost to give every NHS nurse a 100 percent pay rise for that year, includes:
- £673m on PPE ‘not suitable for any use’,
- £2.6bn on PPE ‘not suitable for use in the NHS’,
- £4.7bn wasted on inflated prices for unneeded PPE, and
- £750 million on equipment which will pass its expiry date before it can be used.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also admitted that use of the infamous ‘VIP Lane’ led to an increased risk of fraud. This follows a recent High Court ruling which found that the specialised service for some PPE deals was in breach of the obligation of equal treatment.
£1.3bn of the money spent on Covid-19 contracts was found by the public sector’s auditor-in-chief to be ‘irregular’, as it was spent without the ‘necessary HM Treasury approvals or in express breach of conditions set by HM Treasury’.
Taxpayers’ money goes up in flames
The failures in the department’s procurement service have left the Government paying millions just to store unneeded items, which will eventually have to be recycled or even incinerated.
An FOI response published by the Good Law Project shows that, between April 2020 and August 2021, the Government spent £677.6 million storing excess PPE. Even now, the cost to the taxpayer is £500,000 per day.
As East Anglia Bylines has previously reported, much of this excess kit is seemingly sitting in our region, with containers piled high at Ipswich, Mendlesham and Melton, and possibly Felixstowe. Even if these stacks of containers do hold PPE that meets the required standards, much is no longer usable. The DHSC says that some of the PPE will have to be recycled, while other items will have to be burnt.
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Hancock in hot water
As Health Secretary for much of the pandemic, West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has been at the centre of these allegations. In February 2021, Hancock was found to have acted unlawfully by not revealing details of contracts signed in the early stages of the pandemic. Under his leadership, DHSC failed to publish the details of a number of contracts within 30 days of them being signed.
East Anglia Bylines has previously reported on the £40m contract handed to Alex Bourne, Matt Hancock’s pub landlord. Bourne, who denied being a friend of Hancock, insisted that the contract was won legitimately — even though his company, Hinpack, had no experience of producing medical supplies. Its main business was producing paper cups and pizza boxes.
Hancock was also found to have broken the ministerial code in May 2021, by failing to declare an interest in Topwood Ltd. In 2019, the waste-shredding company, run by his sister and mother, and in which Hancock himself has a 20 percent stake, won an NHS Wales contract worth £150,000.
In May 2021, the Good Law Project reported that Priti Patel, Home Secretary and MP for Witham, lobbied on behalf of a company called Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited (PDL), for Conservative Councillor Samir Jassal and Surbjit Shergill, Head of Sales at PDL.
Matt Hancock had said that the KN95 face masks offered by PDL were ‘Chinese standards’ and that UK officials had concluded they were ‘not suitable for use in the NHS’.
So, Patel tried another avenue, writing to then-Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove on 3 May 2020. Although Patel acknowledged in her letter that the Government seemingly no longer required PDL’s KN95 face masks, she was concerned that this exposed the company to ‘considerable financial risks and pressures’. She asked Gove to ‘review this matter urgently.’
On 15 May, Patel wrote a letter to Shergill, saying that she had drawn to the Cabinet Office’s attention ‘your email and the products you can source.’ On 21 May, PDL signed a £28.8m contract for 60 million face masks.
But there was more to come – in June, PDL received an even larger contract, this time for £102.6m. According to lawyers for Matt Hancock, Mr Shergill emailed the DHSC with a quotation of £102.6m for 20 million FFP3 face masks on 26 June 2020 – £5.13 per mask. An email from the Cabinet Office shows that, at the time, they were paying on average £2.69 per mask. But, just four days later, a recommendation was tabled to approve the purchase.
A spokesman for Priti Patel said: “The Home Secretary rightly followed up representations made to her about the vital supply of PPE. During a time of national crisis failure to do so would have been a dereliction of duty. Ministers have no involvement in the procurement process.”