'Plastic, useless rubbish': Nurse confronts Sajid Javid over poor PPE that left her exposed to Covid and disabled

27 October 2023, 13:27 | Updated: 27 October 2023, 13:35

Sajid Javid was taken to task over PPE
Sajid Javid was taken to task over PPE. Picture: LBC/Twitter

By Will Taylor

Ex-health secretary Sajid Javid has defended the government after it was accused of sourcing "plastic, useless rubbish" for PPE that left a nurse exposed to Covid and "disabled" her.

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Karen, from Swansea, called in to speak to Javid as he stood in for LBC's James O'Brien this week.

The emergency nurse of more than 30 years said she had been disabled by long Covid after contracting it during the pandemic and lost three friends during the outbreak.

She spoke with outrage that the government had spent a fortune on PPE (personal protective equipment) - with a Commons committee finding last year that £4bn would have to be burned because it is unusable, and the government wasted cash on inflated prices.

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There have also been questions about ties between some PPE suppliers and Conservatives in Parliament.

Karen called Javid to say: "Your government was busy doling out PPE contracts to all their mates, most of whom didn't produce a single piece of PPE, some of [what] was produced is now costing us millions to burn.

"You have deliberately set about to defund and destroy the NHS from the moment you took office in government."

Nurse accuses former Health Secretary of deliberately 'defunding' the NHS

She claimed: "Prior to you taking government, working in A&E, we hit the four hour deadlines.

"We had the lowest waiting lists in history, we had the highest patient satisfaction, and then you guys came in and dismantled it and saw an opportunity for each and every one of you for you to make money out of it, and for you to get your friends richer out of it off the back of people who are working almost minimum wage.

"We've got doctors on £14 an hour. Nurses that were starting on £12, £13 an hour, and for what?"

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Javid, who took over as health secretary from Matt Hancock - who had that role in the first year of the pandemic - responded by saying NHS spending "even long before the pandemic is at the highest levels ever in real terms, in cash terms, no matter how you want to measure it".

He insisted: "We spend more that most other comparable countries on healthcare in this country, yet I think most people agree we are not getting the kind of outcomes that we want to see.

"I can't agree with everything you've said about that. You have to think back to the start of this pandemic, when PPE was absolutely necessary.

Nurses were left wearing bags for PPE
Nurses were left wearing bags for PPE. Picture: Twitter

"Every country in the world had a shortage of PPE, and I think people would have expected their government at the time to do everything they can to get their hands on it.

"You're right, they may have bought too much, and they may have to destroy that now, but I'd rather have a government that’s buying too much than too little."

Karen fired back: "The stuff you were providing was plastic useless rubbish. Gloves that you would put your hands through, aprons that were the thinnest I've ever seen, the PPE was shocking, it was not fit for purpose most of the time and it left us open to vulnerabilities.

"It's left me disabled, basically housebound now, I've gone from being busy, working 12 hour shifts in A&E, being out on my bike, going kayaking, out with my kids, to someone who is now left in my home because your government failed to prepare me, to protect me.

"You are also refusing to recognise it as an industrial illness, which it is. I would not have got this if I hadn't been facing Covid every single day."

Javid replied: "I'm sorry for what you're facing. But I do think the NHS's issues go way beyond just the issues around Covid… I think we have more of a structural issues that need to be addressed."

The Commons' Public Accounts Committee found last year that the Department for Health lost 75% of the £12bn it spent on PPE in the first year of the pandemic to inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements.

A total of £4bn of that will not be used by the NHS and is due to be disposed of - much of which was planned to be burned to "generate power".

The committee described the purchasing strategy as "haphazard", with items bought that were "not fit for purpose".

One contract for 3.5bn gloves went to a manufacturer that had allegations of modern slavery made against it.

There has also been criticism of contracts being awarded to suppliers that had links to politicians and government officials. The High Court ruled the government acted unlawfully when it used a special VIP lane for such contracts.

Previously, figures in power during the pandemic have insisted the scramble to hoover up as much kit was an emergency necessity at the time.