PPE ‘worth £1.4bn’ from single pandemic deal ‘destroyed or written off’

Personal protective equipment (PPE) worth an estimated £1.4 billion, which was acquired by the government in a single deal during the pandemic, has been destroyed or written off, it is understood.

Politicians have described the news as a “staggering waste” and “colossal misuse of public funds”.

Figures published by the BBC showed there were at least 1.57 billion items of PPE provided by Northamptonshire supplier Full Support Healthcare that will never be used.

The company struck a £1.78 billion deal with the government to supply face masks, aprons, eye protection and respirators in April 2020.

According to the BBC report, this was the largest Covid-19 PPE order, accounting for 13% of the government’s total spend.

Responding to the news, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting 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.

“It is staggering waste, and we need a full and frank account as to how so much public money was thrown down the toilet.”

A nurse puts on PPE on a ward for Covid patients at King’s College Hospital, in south east London
A nurse puts on PPE on a ward for Covid patients at King’s College Hospital, in south east London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “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 Liberal Democrats would take steps to ensure such a colossal misuse of public funds never happens again.”

Over the course of six months, BBC Investigations made a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requests to NHS Supply Chain.

The responses showed that of the 2.02 billion items of PPE provided by Full Support Healthcare, only 232 million items have been dispatched to the NHS or other care settings.

It is understood about 749 million items have already been burned or destroyed, while a further 825 million are classified as excess stock.

According to the report, the government had previously estimated about £85 million worth of PPE secured under the contract would not be used.

The BBC understands that at least £100 million of additional public money has been spent on storing and incinerating the excess stock since its purchase.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “We do not recognise the £1.4 billion 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.”

Full Support Healthcare and the Conservative Party have been approached for comment.

In January, DHSC accounts revealed some £9.9 billion of the £13.6 billion spent on PPE had been written off as some items were defective or not suitable, while others will not be used before their expiry date.

An accountability report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said that the department plans to dispose of “nearly all” of its current PPE stock held in warehouses and containers.

At the time, Downing Street defended the losses by stressing the circumstances the Covid-19 pandemic caused, such as PPE being in short supply leading to a hike in costs.