Government destroys or writes off £1.4bn of PPE in 'biggest waste of Covid pandemic'

Boxes of PPE are discarded on an area of land near Testwood Lakes nature reserve on June 19, 2023 in Calmore, England.
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

Labour has slammed the UK Government's decision to discard approximately £1.4 billion worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) from a single contract as an example of "staggering waste."

NHS contractor, Full Support Healthcare, produced at least 1.57 billion items of PPE that went unused, despite meeting the required standards. The company reportedly secured a £1.78 billion deal with the Government in April, 2020, the BBC has reported.

Under the terms of the deal, the Northamptonshire-based supplier was to provide face masks, respirators, eye protection, and aprons. This order represented the largest single PPE procurement from one supplier during the Covid-19 period, making up 13% of the Government's total PPE expenditure, said the report. For the latest health and Covid news, sign up to our newsletter here

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The BBC, which acquired the figures, reported that, before the pandemic, Full Support Healthcare had yearly profits of around £800,000. The current profit levels remain undisclosed after co-directors Sarah and Richard Stoute relocated the business to Jersey. The broadcaster also noted that the company continued to pay all its UK taxes and that neither the company nor the Stoutes had engaged in any wrongdoing.

Out of the estimated 2.02 billion PPE items supplied by Full Support, only 232 million were actually used in NHS or care settings, reports the Mirror. A whopping 749 million items of PPE were either burned or disposed of in other ways, with another 825 million classified as spare stock that might be destroyed or recycled, according to the BBC. The Mirror has reached out to the Department of Health and Social Care for a response.

Labour's shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, slammed the Government over its "staggering waste" of taxpayers' money. He went on to say: "We all know that billions of pounds was wasted during the pandemic on corruption and incompetence, but what the BBC has uncovered is the worst example I have ever seen - £1.4bn on one contract, paying for PPE that was never used. It is staggering waste and I think we need a full and frank account as to how so much public money was thrown down the toilet."

In a previous comment provided to the BBC, the Government defended its actions stating it had "acted swiftly to procure PPE at the height of the pandemic." It added it was competing in a global market fraught with demand exceeding supply.

However, ex-government procurement adviser, Peter Smith, spoke to the BBC, claiming that early estimates for PPE requirements were "far higher than they should have been."

In addition, he stated: "I think the procurement people did what many of us would have done and slightly panicked to get the stuff in, or at least get the contracts in and hope the stuff arrived later - it was almost as though price didn't matter."