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The government failed to act on warnings that there would be a shortage of PPE equipment in the weeks before the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, a major medical equipment supplier has told MPs.
At a hearing of the public accounts committee, the head of one of the UK’s largest PPE firms also criticised the government’s “VIP lane”, saying he was unaware it existed.
Sarah Stoute, the chief executive of Full Support Healthcare (FSH), said that she had told government officials in December 2019 that there would soon be a shortage of equipment.
“All of the hubs in the country were emptying. There was no stock and hospitals had started to call, to say they were in a panic. It took all of December and January to beg [the government] to release the Brexit stock as a matter of emergency, whilst we went to production full-scale in the background, and urged them to place orders on products that were running out,” she said.
Stoute said her company went into production without specific orders because it had previously experienced the government’s failure to react with speed in other health emergencies.
She said she called a particular health official to ask them to order supplies of a particular product as quickly as possible from Wuhan, but that the department did not react.
“[I said] you’re going to need a huge amount, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, just get the product. The person I was speaking to in inventory tried to escalate that and was ignored – and was in a very stressed state about it,” she said.
She said her firm had millions of items ready to sell to the government in January but did not get an order until April 2020.
Thomas Martin, the chairman of distributor Arco, told MPs that the company had been “frustrated” in attempts to supply the government with equipment despite more than a decade of experience in the field.
He told how the family-owned firm had around £40m worth of stock sitting in warehouses when the pandemic broke but had eventually been forced to deal with individual hospitals to get equipment out to frontline staff.
“We had approved certified products sitting in our warehouse in the UK, we have a team in China who have been there for over 11 years who actually run the quality assurance and the ethical training, so they were on the ground and we could even provide details and supply chains going forward for four or five months to government colleagues,” he said.
“We really tried. If you have had a chance to read my letter to Lord Deighton then you can see we were frustrated and fearful for the fact that we could not deploy our sales force, our warehousing resource, our quality assurances and our technical expertise the length and breadth of the UK,” he said.
He said that he was not made aware of the VIP lane for suppliers and so was forced to sell directly to trusts desperate for PPE supplies. “We were unaware of the unofficial line and we responded magnificently as we mobilised to support more than 290 NHS trusts and hospitals.”
Arco won contracts but for just £14m, a fraction of the size of the deals handed out to firms with less experience in the field, MPs were told.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has denied that there was ever a PPE shortage and has denied personally intervening to help Conservative-linked individuals and donors to acquire PPE contracts.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Government failed to act over PPE shortage warnings, MPs told | Coronavirus