The UK government’s PPE spending spree: National Audit Office report

National Audit Office NAO
Throughout the pandemic, the PCIAW® and UKFT worked tirelessly with the UK Government to connect experienced manufacturers and suppliers of PPE to the Cabinet Office to aid their procurement strategy.

This work proved hugely challenging as some of PCIAW®’s network reported a lack of responsiveness, all whilst the government awarded contracts to large firms without the necessary experience and without transparency. This resulted in wasted public money on unusable PPE and thus, a shortfall of supply to front line healthcare professionals.

PCIAW® is a vital resource to government with industry knowledge and a network of suppliers

In an attempt to learn lessons from the initial mistakes during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Audit Office consulted PCIAW® in collaboration with UKFT to take stock of what went wrong.

Their objective was to begin to understand how listening to the voice of the professional clothing and PPE industry can assist in building a reliable supply chain of PPE, utilising companies who have experience in meeting the strict specifications and regulations relating to PPE.

On Wednesday, 18th November 2020, we received an email from Paul Wright-Anderson, Audit Manager, in preparation for the report by the National Audit Office, which will be published next week. The PCIAW® received a summary of what is to come from the hard work of the professional clothing industry in advising the government.

The National Audit Office full report into PPE to be published next week

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is vital for preventing and controlling the spread of infection in health and care settings. It needs to be readily available, effective and supported by clear guidance covering the circumstances of its use.

In our report overview of the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we signal an intention to report on how government has managed risks created by its response to the crisis, including with respect to procurement and supply chains for items such as PPE.  

This report will examine the preparedness and response in the supply of PPE in England, including the scale of and reasons for shortfalls in supply. It will cover:       

  • How PPE was supplied to NHS and social care organisations before the COVID-19 pandemic started
  • What government did, between the pandemic emerging in other countries and arriving in the UK, to prepare for the provision of PPE in the NHS and social care organisations 
  • How government responded when problems arose in the supply of PPE 
  • The scale of problems in the availability of PPE throughout the emergency
Lack of transparency with the supply of PPE in the UK

Prior to the pandemic, just 1% of the supply of PPE was manufactured within the UK. It is the objective of the government to increase the supply from the UK to 70% between December and March. There is still much more work to be done by the PCIAW® to help achieve this.

To this day, there are more reports of government contracts being awarded to companies for the supply of PPE which do not meet expectations or value for money. The latest example includes a jewellery designer who was awarded £21m of UK taxpayer’s cash for helping to broker a deal for the supply of PPE. The lack of transparency in the procurement strategy is eroding trust in our industry and the public.

Wearwell (UK) Ltd devastation after government halts contract to supply PPE

The UK-based company, Wearwell (UK) Ltd, has been helping to manufacture high-quality PPE for hospitals in England throughout the pandemic, but they have now been informed that there will be no more orders from government. The reason stated for the change in approach is because the government requires suppliers of PPE to now go through a centralised procurement system.

Wearwell (UK) Ltd has been producing specialist PPE for over 80 years and whilst the rest of their business has reduced by 40% during lockdown, the company invested £100,000 in new machinery and employed more people to produce the gowns. Wearwell (UK) Ltd intends to try and become an approved supplier for hospitals.

Instead of utilising British businesses to build a domestic supply chain, which in turn creates more jobs to contribute to the UK economy and provides better reliability and resilience to the UK government’s PPE stock, businesses like Wearwell (UK) Ltd face further obstacles. Wearwell (UK) Ltd now reports that unless the orders from the government continue, the business may see staff who are skilled at making PPE being furloughed at a further expense to the UK taxpayer.

The Department of Health told the BBC that a centralised system means that value for money is secured.

For more information in relation to the National Audit Office’s reports into government procurement, click here.

Learn more about PCIAW® at

You might also enjoy