Warning plans to burn £4billion worth of PPE will ‘harm the planet’

Two waste companies have been contracted to incinerate or recycle the ‘useless’ PPE (Image: PA)

Burning £4billion worth of unusable personal protective equipment (PPE) to generate electricity is a waste of public money and will hurt the planet, MPs have warned.

The government spent “huge sums of money” buying PPE, some of which was faulty, at inflated prices in the first year of the pandemic, the Public Accounts Committee said.

A deal has even been struck with a manufacturer who now faces accusations of modern slavery.

The PAC said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) lost 75% of the £12billion it spent on PPE in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

That included £4billion that could not be used because it did not meet NHS standards.

Now the DHSC has hired two waste companies to dispose of 15,000 pallets of equipment a month through a mix of recycling and incineration to generate electricity.

But the PAC demands to know how much disposal costs, both financially and in terms of carbon emissions.

PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said the DHSC had done little to “put its house in order” after wasting “huge amounts” of public money.

File photo dated 20/10/20 of staff at an infirmary. The NHS is now as stretched as it was at the peak of the pandemic in January and things will get worse before they get better, health leaders have said. Issue date: Tuesday July 27, 2021. PA Photo. In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Finance Minister Steve Barclay and NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens, NHS providers said the healthcare system was facing a combination of stresses. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Large quantities of PPE bought in the first year of the pandemic did not meet NHS standards (Image: PA)

“The story of the PPE purchase is perhaps the most shameful episode in the UK government’s response to the pandemic,” she said.

“At the start of the pandemic, health and social workers had to risk their own lives and those of their families due to a lack of basic PPE.

“In a desperate attempt to catch up, the government wasted vast amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush while abandoning even the most superficial due diligence.

“This has left us with massive government contracts now under investigation by the National Crime Agency or contentious over allegations of modern slavery in the supply chain.”

Dame Meg said a “series of improper, unauthorized severance payments” made by clinical contract groups in the first 12 months of the pandemic contributed to failures during the crisis.

“DHSC has uniquely failed to deal with this crisis, despite years of clear and well-known risks of a pandemic, and the challenges it now faces are enormous, from reviving the NHS to preparing for the next big crisis “, added her.

Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), echoed the PAC’s criticism.

She said the PPE burning was an “annoying” reminder that the DHSC’s approach to procurement may have also claimed the lives of nurses.

“It’s a painful reminder of the worst of the pandemic — inadequate or wasteful PPE,” she said.

“Billions of pounds going up in smoke when the NHS and care services are struggling will be difficult for them to understand.

“If that money had been used wisely and if decent quality PPE had been bought in the first place, then the lives of the nurses could possibly have been saved.

“If we’re really going to learn the lessons, it will be critical that the forthcoming public inquiry establishes the causes and is clear about where mistakes were made so that they are never repeated.”

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Justin Scacco

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