Report reveals how much money UK lost buying PPE over Covid
The British government spent £12.1 billion ($16.3 billion) on personal protective equipment (PPE) as the Covid-19 pandemic raged between March 2020 and March 2021. However, £8.7 billion of this splurge has since been written off as a loss, due to defective and unsuitable equipment, and the government buying at above-market prices.
The Department of Health’s shocking loss – equivalent to 5% of its entire annual budget – was revealed in its Annual Report and Accounts, published on Monday. The report, covering the March 2020 to March 2021 financial year, revealed that the government spent a whopping £12.1 billion on PPE during this period.
“Most of these items were bought at speed early in the pandemic, at a time when there was a surge in demand in other countries and a temporary decline in global supply,” the report states. Once this “seller’s market” evened out, the government had overpaid for this PPE by £4.7 billion.
Overpaying was not the government’s only blunder. By September, the country had imported such a glut of PPE that crates and containers were backed up at ports, leaving the government to pay £115 million in port fees. Even now, containers of unused PPE remain literally piled up at storage sites around the country.
When the equipment finally reached its users, not everything was up to scratch. Some £2.6 billion worth of this equipment was deemed “not suitable for use within the health and social care sector,” the department report said. A further £670 million worth of PPE could not be used due to defects, and £750 million worth was ordered in excess and will now go unused.
In total, £8.7 billion of the £12.1 billion spent from taxpayer funds is now considered a loss. The government is expected to lose another £1.23 billion on orders fulfilled after March 2021 that could not be cancelled beforehand.
Further examples of waste laid bare in the report include the purchase of £50.6 million worth of defective medical equipment, the scrapping of £663,000 worth of laboratory supplies when two testing centers were closed, and the throwing away of £343,000 worth of fruit and vegetables set aside for school children.
The true extent of the losses may be greater, as the report notes that the government has “incomplete records of the PPE… it had purchased, what had been used and the location, condition and quality of the remaining items.” While the report states that “some progress has been made” in rectifying the issue, “significant weaknesses and gaps in the Department’s inventory records remain.”
A Department of Health spokesperson told ITV that “the supply of these vital items helped keep our NHS open at a moment of national crisis,” adding that the government is “seeking to recover costs from suppliers wherever possible.” However, opposition parties have pointed to the report in criticizing Boris Johnson’s Conservative government.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting described the waste as “shocking and inexcusable,” while Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said “with billions being lost to fraudsters, and now this, it’s plain to see that this Tory government cannot be trusted with our money,” apparently referring to the fraudulent use of Covid loan schemes.