The influential group of MPs in the Public Accounts Committee told the Government they were ‘extremely concerned’ by PPE shortages faced by NHS and care workers during the first wave of the pandemic in the UK.
According to the DHSC it never ran out of stock of PPE but rather Covid-19 had ‘put supply chains and distribution networks under unprecedented strain’, posing challenges with ensuring the right equipment was at the right place at the right time.
The report from the PAC said: ‘We are extremely concerned by the widely reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) faced by NHS and care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.’
It added that the Government had conveyed its intentions to continue to buy the vast majority of its PPE on international markets.
But the PAC said: ‘Although the Department says it is committed to building up stocks to meet longer-term demand, we were not convinced that it was treating the matter with sufficient urgency.
‘In particular, the governance arrangements to procure and distribute PPE across health and social care remain unclear and uncertainty prevails around future provision of local PPE across the health and social care sectors. It is absolutely vital that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave.’
The report recommended that the DHSC write to it within two months to ‘clarify its governance arrangements and outline at what point in the future it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors’.
‘This should include detail on the roles and responsibilities for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment across NHS and social care settings,’ the report said.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: ‘The Government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare. The previous Committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the Government failed to prepare.
‘There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.’
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We may be past the first peak of this virus, but we should be under no illusion that the demand for PPE is over – especially as the NHS begins to manage the huge backlog of demand caused by the pandemic, all under tighter infection control measures.’
Dr Nagpaul argued that rather than making meaningless announcements about acquiring ‘billions’ of items of PPE, the Government must do ‘numerical modelling’ on the future demand for PPE and how this ‘stacks up against present supplies and orders placed’.
In light of the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 doctors and colleagues ‘need cast-iron guarantees from Government that the failures of the past months will not be repeated, that there will be enough of the right PPE and that it will be properly tested, quality-controlled and safe to use’, Dr Nagpaul added.