28th Nov, 2020

Public inquiry needed into Government's 'scandalous' PPE deals, says frontline Hagley doctor

Tristan Harris 20th Nov, 2020 Updated: 20th Nov, 2020

A DOCTOR from Hagley who has worked on the frontline during the pandemic has labelled the revelations from the National Audit Office report into the Government’s procurement of PPE as ‘scandalous’.

And Dr David Nicholl has called for a full public inquiry.

Speaking to the Standard he said: “I understand there was a lot of pressure but the way it was done without proper checks was outrageous.

“There have been stories about ‘mates rates’ for people linked to members of the Government and for Boris Johnson to then say ‘he was proud about the way it had been handled’ beggared belief.”

Dr Nicholl added he was glad he was in at the hospital he worked at but had heard from other colleagues about ventilators not working and personal protective equipment that was not fit for purpose.

“I feel for colleagues who had to put up with these things in the middle of a pandemic.”

The NAO probe found a lack of transparency and inadequate documentation for some of the key decisions, such as why certain suppliers were chosen or how conflicts of interest were identified and managed.

By July 31 more than 8,600 contracts had been awarded worth £18billion with individual deals ranging from £100 to £410million.

The majority – some 90 per cent (£16.2billion worth) – were awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and its national bodies.

For the whole of 2019-20 the DHSC awarded 174 contracts worth £1.1billion which equated to less than seven per cent of deals during the first seven months of 2020.

New contracts totalled £17.3billion but £10.5billion of those were awarded directly without a competitive tender process.

The report accepted PPE needed to be procured quickly during the pandemic’s first few months when global demand far exceeded supply.

It added: “The cross-government PPE team established a high-priority lane to assess and process potential PPE leads referred by government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals.

“The team considered that leads referred by these sources were more credible or needed to be treated with more urgency.”

One in ten suppliers were processed through the high-priority lane and the sources were not always documented in the case management system and one – PestFix – was added in error.

NAO head Gareth Davies said: “At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, the Government had to procure large volumes of goods and services quickly whilst managing the increased risks this might entail.

“While we recognise these were exceptional circumstances, it remains essential that decisions are properly documented and made transparent if Government is to maintain public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately and fairly.”

A Covid Christmas

THERE has been a lot of talk this week about a Covid Christmas – What will it be like? What will be able to do? Will we be able to visit family and friends and socialise?

Dr David Nicholl said there had been some good news over the past few weeks about various vaccines but warned until they were available people had to remain vigilant – and that included the festive season.

He said: “This is serious – hospitals are stretched and people need to take it seriously and follow the regulations until vaccines became available.

“If people start mixing over Christmas there is a danger the virus will spread and cases will flare up badly in January, putting lives at risk.”

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