Inadequate government planning and a lack of PPE left frontline workers risking their own and their families’ lives during the early stages of the pandemic, an MPs’ report has found.
The Public Accounts Committee report said the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) decision to prioritise hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic left social care workers “exposed to the virus”.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Committee, said: “Government had permission to procure equipment at pace and without tendering under the law, but acting fast did not give it license to rip up record keeping on decisions. It did not publish contracts in time and kept poor records of why some companies won multi-million pound contracts. The cost of emergency procurement – £billions higher than the equivalent a year before – highlights how both its pandemic plan and supply of essential equipment were inadequate.
“Frontline workers were left without adequate supplies, risking their own and their families’ lives to provide treatment and care. We’re at a dangerous new phase of the pandemic, in our third national lockdown with no defined end in sight. The government needs to acknowledge the errors and be better prepared.”
The report says the DHSC “wasted hundreds of millions of pounds” on “poor quality” PPE that could not be used for its intended purpose.
While noting the DHSC assertion that no care setting ran out of PPE, the Committee heard “compelling evidence” from front-line organisations that stocks ran perilously low; single use items were reused and some were not fit for purpose – including reports of expired, substandard, deficient or even insect-infested supplies – with staff in fear that they would run out.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said ministers had forgotten about social care in the rush to protect the NHS with “deadly consequences” and called for a public inquiry.
“Care of the elderly and the vulnerable should never have been cast out to a fragmented, dysfunctional private sector,” Christina said. “Major reform to create a national social care service mirroring the NHS is needed now.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been working tirelessly to procure, produce and deliver PPE to over 58,000 settings, protecting our health and social care staff on the frontline of this pandemic.
“As the Public Accounts Committee recognises, the Government faced significant challenges in having to rapidly procure PPE at pace in a competitive international market. Thanks to the combined effort of Government, NHS, Armed Forces, civil servants and industry we have delivered over 8.1 billion items of PPE at record speed.
“We have a robust processes in place to ensure PPE meet the strictest safety and quality standards before being distributed to the frontline.”