Matt Hancock has faced outrage after claiming there was ‘never’ a national personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage during the pandemic.
Elisa Menendez metro.co.uk
The health secretary’s remarks were described by Labour as an ‘insult’ to frontline health and care workers who were forced to use ‘inadequate’ PPE, with some fashioning gowns out of bin bags.
His comments came amid questioning over a High Court ruling last week found he had broken the law over Covid-related contracts.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘If I had my time again, absolutely I’d do exactly the same thing again. Exactly the same thing.
‘What I care about is making sure people have the protection they need. I care deeply about the staff of the NHS and the staff who work in social care and I care deeply that they have everything they need.
‘It was really tough but there wasn’t a national shortage at any point. There were difficulties in individual areas but there was never a national shortage.’
Hancock says he’d do ‘exactly the same thing again’ with PPE contracts
In further interviews today, he reiterated that ‘we were very close’ to a national shortage and it was difficult to deliver PPE ‘in the teeth of a national pandemic’.
However, he insisted it never got to that point as his team distributed supplies successfully – despite health and social care workers complaining of desperate shortages across the country which put their lives at risk.
Palliative care doctor, Rachel Clarke, called Mr Hancock’s remarks ‘categorically not true’.
Dr Clarke wrote on Twitter: ‘I say this as someone who *begged* local veterinary practices and schools for masks and visors.
‘Whose hospice nearly closed down through lack of PPE. This was happening up and down the country. It was horrendous.
‘The failures to provide PPE at the time were bad enough – but to lie about it now? Well that’s inexcusable.’
John Peek responded: ‘I’m a dentist and early in the pandemic, I gave visors and goggles to doctors who were working in A&E with totally inadequate PPE.’
Doctor Dominic Pimenta, chairman of charity the Healthcare Workers’ Foundation, said in a thread that the NHS ‘ran out of the correct PPE nearly instantly in many areas’.
He wrote: ‘Covid is airborne. Nearly 1000 U.K. healthcare workers have died as a consequence of inadequate PPE, one of the worst rates in the entire world.’
Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health, said: ‘It is an insult to claim there was no shortage of PPE.
‘Many frontline workers had to ration protective equipment, putting themselves at risk.
‘Lots of it was inadequate and poorly fitting, and some NHS staff had to make gowns themselves from bin bags.
‘The fact is, it was a smash-and-grab for Tory donors and friends. And protecting workers who were putting themselves in harm’s way to look after people seems to have been an afterthought.’
Meanwhile, around 12 million masks being used in the NHS currently may not meet safety standards and have been withdrawn, reported the BBC.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘This is yet another example of ministers buying duff PPE that is inadequate for protecting our hardworking NHS staff. Ministers should apologise and ensure every penny for every piece of unusable PPE is recovered.’
The health secretary’s comments came amid questioning over last week’s High Court ruling over his department’s failure to publish details of coronavirus-related contracts on time.
He insisted the case, brought forward by the Good Law Project, was not over the ‘substance’ of the contracts but because they were published ‘on average around a couple of weeks late’.
Mr Hancock insisted legal cases about transparency returns were ‘completely second order’ to saving lives and that his officials had been working long hours to procure PPE instead.
As part of the Government’s transparency policy, No 10 is required to publish the procurement of any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000 within 30 days.
The judge said there was ‘no dispute’ that in a ‘substantial number of cases’ Mr Hancock had ‘breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days’.