A £98 million consignment of rejected PPE from China has been put on sale to other countries after being deemed unfit for the NHS.
The surgical gowns were intended for the UK’s supply chain during the pandemic, but were found to be ‘unsuitable’ for healthcare purposes.
Instead, the shipment from the China National Instruments Import and Export Group Corporation has been offered for sale on a Nato e-portal.
The PPE was delivered under a contract that hid the colour of the items, despite assertions by Boris Johnson that pandemic contracts are being openly published.
The quantity, unit price and measurements were also redacted in the documents made available online.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now disclosed the gowns ‘have been considered as unsuitable for use in a UK healthcare setting’. In the response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request, the DHSC also said the items had been ‘offered for sale on the Nato portal’.
The DHSC did not specify why the items had been rejected for UK use.
Nato, a military alliance between 30 European and North American countries, has a support and procurement side where stock can be auctioned between nations.
PPE that does not meet NHS ‘quality assurance’ can be sold on with the Ministry of Defence acting as the DHSC’s agent in its sales activity on the e-portal run by the Nato Support and Procurement Agency.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who has backed calls for more transparency and a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic, questioned whether the cast-offs would find any takers among member nations.
Ms Lucas told Metro.co.uk: ‘The Government’s handling of Covid contracts has been a story of incompetence, cronyism and law-breaking.
‘It’s hard to know which is worst.
‘Maybe Nato will want to buy a job lot of unuseable PPE, more likely not. Either way, millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been wasted.
‘There is a clear case for an urgent public inquiry, and it’s no wonder the Government wants to delay it.’
Dolin Bhagawati, vice-chairperson of the Doctors’ Association UK, told Metro.co.uk that the Government needed to learn lessons from ‘missteps’ which had a direct impact on the health service’s frontline.
‘We are highly concerned that there is a lack of acknowledgement regarding the missteps taken in the early phase of the pandemic response,’ Mr Bhagawati said.
‘The eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money that were spent on PPE need to be accounted for, especially in light of cases like this.
‘Colleagues died while raising concerns about a lack of PPE. If due diligence was not performed while sourcing PPE during the first wave then this must be acknowledged, explained and learnt from.’
The sparse details about the gowns were contained in the reply which said that all safeguards were being taken by the Government over imported PPE.
The DHSC stated: ‘The Department has been provided with the full contracted quantity of surgical gowns that have been through the Quality Assurance process.
‘They have been considered as unsuitable for use in a UK healthcare setting and are therefore being offered for sale on the Nato portal.’
It emerged last week that almost three billion items of PPE bought by the Government have been found to be unfit for the NHS.
Sir Chris Wormald, the most senior official in the DHSC, said in evidence to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the estimated cost to the taxpayer was about £1.5 billion.
The latest disclosure also follows a continued legal challenge by the Good Law Project over the transparency of contracts and the way they were awarded through a Government ‘VIP lane’.
In its latest case, the not-for-profit campaign organisation won a High Court judgement that Michael Gove broke the law by handing a contract to a firm run by his associates.
In the response, the DHSC said: ‘All stocks of PPE are being sample checked to ensure records are accurate and there are no significant or obvious faults with the products.
‘PPE and medical devices continue to be assured by the regulators, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
‘We are continuing to work with the regulators and independent testing to ensure that the quality and suitability of PPE is maintained, and faults can be identified as early as possible so that appropriate action can be taken.’
The £98.7 million contract with the Beijing-based company began in June 2020 as the Government scrambled to ensure rapid supplies of PPE for the health service’s frontline.
Awarded under a fast-track process introduced due to the ‘extremely urgent’ need for kit to protect workers from Covid, it is one of several deals the DHSC struck with the company.
The Health Secretary has said that 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 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.’
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