A DAMNING report published yesterday entitled ‘Track and Trace’ by Transparency International has shone a light on the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) scandal, where at the beginning of the pandemic, the Tory government gave government contracts to all manner of businesses to produce masks, gowns and gloves.
A fifth of contracts awarded between February and November 2020 contained one or more red flags for possible corruption and require urgent further investigation. The report gets to the heart of the PPE scandal, in which Tory donors were awarded contracts even if they had never produced PPE before. Millions of items of gloves, aprons and masks were of such substandard material that they had to be dumped. Other companies despite receiving millions of pounds of public money, did not produce a single piece of PPE in return.
The report states: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has required a rapid public health response on a scale and speed unseen in modern times. Whilst those procuring goods and services have sought to expedite the emergency response, we observe a pattern of behaviour whereby critical safeguards for protecting the public purse have been thrown aside without adequate justification.
‘Emerging evidence from investigative journalists, the National Audit Office (NAO) and public interest litigation highlights these in startling detail.’
Transparency International UK said a ‘seriously flawed’ arrangement, whereby companies bidding for contracts were prioritised if they were referred into a “VIP lane” by their political connections, had ‘damaged trust in the integrity of the pandemic response’.
The group said Tory PM Boris Johnson’s government must urgently disclose the identities of companies awarded public money through the ‘VIP lane’, which was set up by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care in the early days of the pandemic.
Over 1,000 NHS workers have died after being infected by coronavirus at work, and there have been horror stories of doctors, nurses and NHS staff forced to deal with infected patients while wearing inadequate PPE. In one case, nurses used bin bags as they had run out of aprons!
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: ‘We have been campaigning on behalf of our members for the right PPE throughout the pandemic.
‘We’ve given evidence to the Public Accounts Committee and we’ve written to MPs and Public Health England imploring the government to provide the correct protection.
‘The sad truth is that health and social care staff had to care for people with Covid-19 without the right PPE to protect themselves from infection. In some cases, our members told us that they had to resort to buying their own PPE or relying on donations from schools to protect themselves and their colleagues.
‘As a result of our campaigning, we received offers of help from PPE suppliers, some of whom said they hadn’t received responses when they contacted the government, even as some hospitals were reporting that they were on the verge of running out of essential equipment.
‘These were numerous and were sent over to the Department of Health and Social Care. We did this in order to help them obtain desperately needed PPE at a time when many doctors were reporting feeling anxious and unprotected.
‘It is clear that the government was poorly prepared for such a crisis, which ultimately affected the quality, timeliness and value for money of the PPE that the NHS then received.
‘Greater transparency around private sector spending is essential to avoid the misuse of taxpayers’ money, yet we saw outsourcing being carried out with minimal oversight or governance. Deals were struck without adequate scrutiny and as a result, taxpayers’ money poured out of the Treasury at a time when the NHS was struggling to cope and in desperate need of investment.’