£122m worth of Covid PPE bought for the NHS has never been used

Millions of hospital medical gowns that were bought for the NHS at the end of the first national lockdown for £122 million have never been used, it has been revealed.

The gowns were ordered by the government from supplier, PPE Medpro, which had been set up just one month earlier. The firm said it had met the agreed terms.

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PPE shortages

PPE Medpro was set up as a company in May, at which time hospitals across the country were facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), including hospital gowns and masks, to protect staff from the virus.

The supply of gowns was the most “pertinent problem” over several months, according to NHS providers, which represents English hospital trusts.

Just six weeks after it was incorporated, the supplier signed a contract with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for £122 million to supply sterile surgical gowns to the NHS in England. However, no other companies were asked to bid for the contract, due to the urgency of the pandemic.

The DHSC said that all PPE must undergo rigorous checks and contracts must meet the British Standard for the sterilisation of medical devices, or a “technical equivalent.”

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PPE Medpro followed the second route, which required the DHSC to seek approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for the gowns to be used by the NHS.

Evaluation under way

At present, there is no record of PPE Medpro (or either of its two Chinese suppliers) on the MHRA’s exemptions list, although the evaluation process is now thought to be under way. The supplier said it delivered 100 per cent of the agreed contract.

The news that the gowns were never used follows a report by the BBC earlier this year in August which revealed that 50 million face masks bought by the UK government from a different company would not be used in the NHS due to safety concerns.

Speaking to the BBC, the DHSC said, "The safety of front-line staff and patients is of paramount importance and we now have a four-month stockpile of all Covid-critical PPE in place.

"All PPE must undergo rigorous checks so they meet the safety and quality required.

"Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.”