Millions of medical gowns bought for the NHS at the end of the first lockdown for £122m have never been used.
By Phil Kemp www.bbc.co.uk
The gowns were ordered by the government from a supplier which had set up just a month earlier, and no other companies were asked to bid for the contract.
The supplier, PPE Medpro, says it had met the agreed terms.
The Department of Health said all PPE must undergo rigorous checks.
PPE Medpro was set up as a company in May while the UK was still in the first coronavirus lockdown.
At the time, hospitals across the country were reporting shortages of personal protective equipment – clothing and accessories to protect medics from the virus.
Earlier this week NHS Providers, which represents English hospital trusts, told the House of Commons spending watchdog that the supply of gowns was the most “pertinent problem” over several months.
Six weeks after it was incorporated, PPE Medpro signed a contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for £122m to supply sterile surgical gowns to the NHS in England.
The contract was not opened to competition due to the exceptional urgency of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sterile surgical gowns are used to reduce the risk of infection when Covid patients are put on to ventilators, for example.
The DHSC told the BBC that contracts for the gowns must meet the British Standard for the sterilisation of medical devices or a “technical equivalent”.
PPE Medpro followed this second route. This required the DHSC to seek approval from the health regulator, the MHRA, for them to be used in the NHS.
The contract, which shows the agreed sum of £122m
The DHSC and MHRA declined to comment when asked for details of the approval application made for the Medpro products. There is as yet no record of PPE Medpro or either of its two Chinese suppliers on the regulator’s exemptions list, although it is understood the evaluation process is now under way.
PPE Medpro say they delivered 100 per cent of the contract to the terms specified.
The company said it supplied the equipment “fully in accordance with the agreed contract, which included clear terms as to technical specification and performance criteria of the products”.
“We did so in very challenging circumstances earlier this year and are very pleased to have been able to assist DHSC fully and properly at a time of national crisis,” it added.
In August the BBC revealed that 50 million face masks bought by the UK government from a different company earlier in the year would not be used in the NHS because of safety concerns.
The DHSC said: “The safety of front-line staff and patients is of paramount importance and we now have a four-month stockpile of all Covid-critical PPE in place.
“All PPE must undergo rigorous checks so they meet the safety and quality required.
“Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.”