The Government’s shambolic handling of the PPE crisis was laid bare last night after a documentary claimed ministers counted every glove individually instead of in pairs to boast of delivering one billion bits of protective kit to NHS staff.
A BBC Panorama investigation revealed Number 10 had failed to buy enough masks, gowns, visors and swab tests – despite creating a major emergency stockpile for use during a pandemic in 2009.
Officials neglected to purchase enough PPE and then ignored a warning from their own advisers last June that they would need more, it was claimed.
The investigation also accused ministers of counting 547million individual gloves, instead of 273.5million pairs, to fiddle PPE numbers. They have also included cleaning items in their ‘one billion’ figure.
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins did not deny the claims on BBC Breakfast this morning, and said she would not be ‘drawn into the detail of these figures’.
It comes as a shocking poll by the Royal College of Physicians yesterday found that a quarter of doctors are having to re-use protective kit meant to be worn just once.
The college’s leader said the survey revealed a ‘terrible state of affairs’ and – in a further blow to the Government – an investigation found that officials failed to buy enough gowns when setting up an emergency stockpile in 2009. Ministers are also accused of ignoring a warning last June that they would need to purchase more.
The protective clothes should be worn only once because washing them at temperatures high enough to kill coronavirus weakens their effectiveness.
A shocking poll by the Royal College of Physicians found that a quarter of doctors are having to re-use protective kit meant to be worn just once (file photo)
The failure to provide enough PPE to hospitals and care homes has been one of the biggest issues in the pandemic
The BBC Panorama investigation, which was screened last night and is available on iPlayer, found the Government failed to stockpile enough gowns, visors and swabs needed for testing.
Ministers apparently then ignored a warning last summer from experts on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group that they should buy additional gowns.
The Government claims to have sent out one billion items of PPE to hospitals since the outbreak began in the UK.
But looking at documents from inside the supply chain, BBC found half the items delivered to hospitals were gloves – most of which were counted individually rather than in pairs.
The one billion figure also includes items which are not considered PPE, including millions of cleaning products, waste bags, detergents and paper towels.
The Government claims to have sent out one billion items of PPE to hospitals since the outbreak began in the UK – but Panorama found they had counted most gloves individually. Pictured, a Royal Mint employee in Wales
An RAF Atlas, believed to be carrying a cargo of PPE is unloaded at Brize Norton
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins this morning did not deny that the Government had been counting gloves individually following the Panorama attack.
She told BBC Breakfast that she had a box of gloves and they were not badged up as being in pairs, although said she was ‘not going to be drawn into the detail of these figures’.
But Ms Atkins said: ‘We have been very transparent about figures throughout and we have got to keep with transparency because that is how we keep people’s trust.’
‘I’m very, very sorry to hear of that report.’
The shortages are affecting care homes as well. James Bullion, of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, told the BBC’s World at One: ‘It’s been promised for some weeks and not arrived.’
Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: ‘It will be important – when the time comes for a public inquiry – to examine why the pandemic stockpile was not configured for an epidemic like the one we face today.’
The number of new cases continued to rise in the latest data, but the rate has slowed significantly
A Royal College’s survey – completed by 2,129 members – also highlighted concerns that protective equipment was poorly fitting.
Nearly a third – 31 per cent – said they had not had their facemasks ‘fit tested’ to ensure they provided maximum protection.
Just 69 per cent said they were always able to access the vital long-sleeved gowns. The figure for goggles was even lower at 50 per cent.
Overall 27 per cent said they could not get the equipment they needed, which was up from 22 per cent when the college carried out the same survey three weeks ago.
Some 27 per cent of doctors were re-using their personal protective equipment or had done so.
Its president, Professor Andrew Goddard, said: ‘Many personal protective equipment items are designed for single use and should only be re-used in extreme circumstances.
‘That so many people are having to re-use PPE shows how desperate the shortages are.
‘This is a truly terrible state of affairs. As a bare minimum we expect our health service to provide the equipment we need to protect ourselves and our patients.’
The failure to provide enough PPE to hospitals and care homes has been one of the biggest issues in the pandemic, with the Government admitting it cannot lift the lockdown before it is resolved.
The Department of Health said: ‘We are working night and day to ensure our frontline health and social care staff have the equipment they need to tackle this virus, and have delivered over a billion items of PPE since the outbreak began.
‘New clinical advice has been issued to make sure that if there are shortages in one area, frontline staff know what PPE to wear instead to minimise risk.’
The NHS is asking for a minute’s silence at 11am today for all the health and care workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed last night that 98 frontline staff have died. Others put the figure at 134 and campaigners say lives have been lost because of inadequate PPE.
Mr Hancock promised last night that the families of health and care workers who have died from coronavirus would receive a £60,000 ‘life assurance’ scheme.
Among the victims was Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, 53, who died in east London five days after urging Mr Johnson to make sure staff had better clothing and equipment.
As daily hospital deaths from coronavirus dropped below 400 for the first time in four weeks:
- Boris Johnson returned to No 10 and likened his personal battle with coronavirus to a mugging;
- The PM suggested any easing of the lockdown would be very gradual with difficult trade-offs;
- Mr Hancock insisted the NHS was open for patients with other illnesses and said cancer treatments would be restored;
- It emerged that he may not be able to confirm whether he has met his 100,000-a-day testing target on the deadline of this Thursday;
- A fleet of rapid-response testing units is being set up to stop a coronavirus resurgence;
- Small firms will be able to get interest-free loans of up to £50,000 under a fast-track scheme;
- Four million workers have been furloughed by 500,000 firms, costing the Treasury £4.5billion;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he was planning a ‘gradual’ winding-down of the scheme;
- Traffic data suggested drivers are returning to the roads amid lockdown fatigue;
- Rising numbers of children have been admitted to intensive care with deadly symptoms linked to coronavirus;
- Ministers are braced for grim figures on deaths in care homes, where shortages of PPE have been acute;
- An education watchdog warned of the impact of school closures on children from vulnerable backgrounds.
Boris Johnson returned to No 10 and likened his personal battle with coronavirus to a mugging
Mr Hancock promised last night that the families of health and care workers who have died from coronavirus would receive a £60,000 ‘life assurance’ scheme