‘Heart-stopping waste of money’: MPs slam £98,000,000 PPE order from China

The chair of Parliament’s spending watchdog has criticised a ‘heart-stopping waste of money’ on PPE deemed unfit for the NHS.

Dame Meg Hillier MP spoke after Metro.co.uk revealed yesterday how the £98 million consignment of surgical gowns from a Chinese supplier last summer has been put up for sale through Nato.

The order from the China National Instruments Import and Export Group Corporation is being offered on an e-portal belonging to the military alliance, which has 30 member nations in Europe and North America.

Details of the re-sale by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) were revealed within a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Ms Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told Metro.co.uk the rejected shipment was only part of a larger picture of ‘shocking procurement failures’.

The Labour MP said: ‘Ninety-eight million is a heart-stopping amount of taxpayers’ money wasted but the Government has spent £15 billion on PPE in the pandemic so far and more than a third of that hasn’t been sent to the front line – it’s languishing in shipping containers.

‘The DHSC doesn’t know where it’s going or how much more of it won’t be fit for use, and it’s costing the taxpayer another £6.7 million every week to store. On top of that, more than a quarter of the PPE we’ve ordered hasn’t landed in the UK yet.

‘I suppose the department must try to recover something of its shocking procurement failures, having been forced into transparency one court ruling, committee hearing and FOI decision at a time.’

Last week, the committee, which scrutinises the value for money of Government projects, programmes and service delivery, heard that almost three billion items of PPE have been found to be unfit for the NHS.

Sir Chris Wormald, the most senior official in the DHSC, told MPs that the estimated cost to the taxpayer was about £1.5 billion.

However, he said storage costs had fallen from more than £10 million last year, with supplies being ordered on a ‘worst case scenario’, which had only a 5% chance of becoming reality.

Matt Western MP has questioned why companies in his constituency and others in the UK were not selected as PPE suppliers, despite repurposing their operations to meet the Government’s ‘call to arms’.

Mr Western, who represents Warwick and Leamington, said: ‘The Government’s failure to protect frontline NHS staff and key workers during the pandemic is inexcusable – and we need an urgent inquiry. DHSC procurement has been ineffective, opaque and, in some cases, unlawful.

‘And sneakily putting the £98 million batch of sub-standard PPE up for sale confirms its failure and its wasting of taxpayers’ money in pursuit of cheaper foreign deals.

‘It is especially insulting to British firms who were asked to respond to the Government’s call to arms and produce PPE only to be left deserted while foreign firms were favoured for contracts.’

The £98.7 million contract with the Beijing-based firm began in June 2020 as the Government scrambled to ensure emergency supplies of PPE for the health service’s frontline.

A fast-track procurement process had been introduced due to the ‘extremely urgent’ need for kit, such as gowns, masks and gloves, to protect workers from Covid.

The Health Secretary has said the Government had to ‘rapidly’ get supplies of PPE to the frontline during a ‘desperate’ shortage at the height of the pandemic and the process for making offers was ‘open to everyone’.

A DHSC spokesperson has previously told Metro.co.uk: ‘The Government has worked tirelessly to get the PPE needed for the frontline and, as the National Audit Office recognised, all NHS providers they spoke to were able to get the equipment they needed in time.

‘We are looking at repurposing the small proportion of PPE items that have been classified as not for use in the NHS.’

Metro.co.uk has approached the DHSC for further comment.

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