- Due to inadequate stock, the UK government spent £10 billion extra on PPE
- The NHS had to pay an additional cost of up to 1,300 per cent for the precautionary kit with the rise in prices globally
- According to the report of NAO, during the beginning of the outbreak, the NHS required 32 billion items of PPE but had only 400 million of them
The United Kingdom has spent a whopping £10 billion more for personal protective equipment (PPE) kits because of a heightened global demand and its failure to procure and stockpile before the pandemic, a report published by the National Audit Office stated on Tuesday. During the initial wave of the pandemic, the procurement chiefs at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) paid 1,300 per cent more for safety kit in comparison with the price in 2019 due to inflated prices.
The NAO report stated that the providers didn’t realise the need to gear up for the pandemic and also didn’t look into the stockpiles. As the PPE quantity was not sufficient, the suppliers made a huge effort to boost PPE supplies. But since the impact of the crisis was felt in March, the officials had to pay very high prices.
The report also revealed that DHSC had to spend £12.5 billion on 32 billion items of PPE between February and July, reflecting a surge in the price paid in comparison with the price in 2019. If the government procured PPE kits at 2019 prices, it would have paid £2.5 billion. The respirator masks’ price witnessed a 166 per cent rise and the body bags’ cost increased 1,310 per cent.
The PPE kits ordered during the initial wave of the virus did not arrive on time. The frontline organisations received only 2.6 billion units between February and July out of 32 billion items of PPE that were supposed to be procured. The UK government is now undertaking actions to stockpile Covid-style gear that is used by NHS and social care staff so that there’s no shortage in future. NAO reported that in April and May, the demand for various types of safety kits were so high that levels of the stocks were almost negligible.
Gareth Davies, the head of NAO, said that as the PPE stock was not sufficient for the sudden and unexpected crisis and therefore, the government had to undertake immediate action to increase the supplies. There was a drastic increase in the price of PPE by the time the pandemic had spread drastically, costing around £10 billion to the exchequer.
Meg Hiller, the chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, has blamed the ministers for being too slow in recognising the situation and then responding to it. Hence, all that was left was to pay “through the roof” in order to buy the frontline equipment.
The Labour MP added that the unexpected outburst of the pandemic came as a surprise to the NHS as the national stock was nowhere close to the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak.
Justin Madders, Shadow health minister, said that the NAO report confirms that frontline workers were put into unnecessary risk as they did not have access to adequate PPE kits during the early pandemic days. He blamed the government for the shortage and said it was unclear about the pandemic and didn’t plan in advance for the unforeseen circumstances.
In recent media reports, the scientists of the UK government have warned that with the festive season round the corner, the relaxation in the coronavirus restrictions could lead to a third wave of the pandemic, due to the increase in transmission with people meeting each other, resulting into a rise in the spread and consequently deaths.
Across the UK, families of any size will have the permission to gather in three-household groups over Christmas as per the government’s announcement. This has led to the scientists to prompt warnings. In fact, some scientists have strongly warned that the mixing of families in winters could encourage the spread of the virus.
This indicates that the government should be well prepared in advance to avoid such a circumstance that could lead to a third wave across the UK. Also, Brits should take extraordinary measures while the festive season is on.
Initially, the government was well-positioned with tested plans and stock in place for managing the supply of PPE in a pandemic. A budget of £15 billion of taxpayers’ money has been drafted by the UK government for buying PPE for England. But the limited stock as well as the buying and distribution arrangements of PPE could cope with the exceptional demand the pandemic had created.