'Inept' government slammed as Covid PPE losses of £8.7bn revealed

1 February 2022, 15:32 | Updated: 2 February 2022, 07:59

New documents from the DHSC show huge sums of money was wasted
New documents from the DHSC show huge sums of money was wasted. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Government has incurred losses of £8.7 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic, according to annual accounts.

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New documents from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) show huge sums of money was wasted on useless equipment.

PPE worth £673 million was found to be totally unusable, and £750m was spent on items that were not used before their expiry date.

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Nearly £2.6bn was spent on "items not suitable for use in the NHS", but which the department thinks can be sold or given to charities.

The DHSC also said the value of its remaining stock has been slashed by £4.7bn as the price of PPE dropped.

Countries clamoured to get hold of items such as face masks and gloves at the start of the pandemic so prices rose sharply.

Equipment scheduled to be delivered after the end of the financial year is expected to lose £1.2bn in value, the 2020/21 accounts further reveal.

The Government was also charged £111.5m for not moving containers full of PPE from a port to their storage facility on time.

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Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden said: "These levels of waste destroy any claim the Conservatives have to be careful stewards of the public finances.

"Along with the Government's laissez faire attitude to fraud, this will be particularly galling to hard-working households wondering how they will pay the higher taxes the Chancellor is imposing this April."

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper called the Government "inept", adding: "They cannot be trusted with our money and are totally out of touch."

The accounts also show a loss relating to fruit and vegetables after the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) was temporarily suspended when schools were closed.

The DHSC had already contracted to pay for produce to be delivered to schools, leading to a loss of £1.25m, which comprised distribution costs of £657,000 and produce costs of £590,000.

It said it donated £247,000 of the fruit and veg to food charities.

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Further losses include £1.1m amounting to the value of 70% of an undelivered order for ventilators "which did not fully meet functionality requirements at the time".

The accounts said: "Consequently, the remainder of the order was cancelled. As the supplier had technically met the contract's specification and had already incurred costs, 30% of the contract value was unable to be recovered."

During the year, the DHSC wrote off laboratory equipment valued at £663,000 following the closure of two regional testing sites and "there being no alternative options for repurposing or storing these assets".

Additionally, a stockpile of intensive care unit items was created to prevent shortages.

The report said: "A small number of items, valued at £313,000, reached their expiry date and had to be written off."

With regards to NHS Test and Trace, the DHSC "impaired... consumables totalling £195m in respect of items for which we have not currently identified a suitable use",

Two flights which were expected to transport PPE from China had to be cancelled due to lack of stock availability at the time, with the £649,000 deposit for the two flights taken as a cancellation charge "as per the terms of the contract".

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The report also pointed to "changing requirements" which meant the DHSC incurred a cancellation fee of £339,000 following the cancellation of two contracts for quarantine hotels.

The Government's auditor said in the report the DHSC was put under "extraordinary pressure" by the pandemic and had to operate outside normal processes and procedures.

But he said it "was not able to manage adequately some of the elevated risks, resulting in significant losses for the taxpayer".

He added: "The chief secretary to the Treasury wrote to the department on 21 December 2021 confirming HM Treasury's view that £1.3 billion of the department's spending did not have proper HM Treasury consent and was irregular.

"He stated that 'in the vast majority of cases' this was because either the department or NHS England had spent funds without approval or in express breach of the conditions that had been set."

It comes as a World Health Organisation (WHO) study on PPE waste pointed to "unnecessary" use in the UK.

It said: "In the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK use of PPE in England alone added an additional 1% carbon burden, compared with pre-Covid-19.

"Between February and August 2020, three billion items of PPE were used, resulting in 591 tonnes of waste per day. The greatest contribution came from gloves. Much of this PPE use was unnecessary."