The government has defended itself in response to criticism from safety equipment supplier Arco, in regards to its handling of the PPE shortage at the start of the pandemic.
Hull-based Arco – one of the UK’s leading providers of personal protective equipment –published a 10-point plan with recommendations to the government, to prevent a repeat of the “mistakes” that were seen during the first wave of the crisis.
Arco claims that at the first stage of the pandemic there was a “poor centrally coordinated response” to global shortages of PPE by the UK government.
Arco said: “Early in the pandemic there were many examples of a broken supply chain with frontline workers left without critical PPE. A number of suppliers, like Arco, were holding stock but unable to work with the Government and its agents to supply PPE where it was needed the most.
“More recently, a National Audit Office Report has highlighted examples of PPE supply contracts being awarded opaquely to organisations with no history of PPE manufacture and supply, who were ultimately unable to fulfil orders.”
Arco states that in some cases, non-compliant products were supplied “that increased the risks to the public, care home staff and NHS workers”.
Thomas Martin, Arco’s chairman said: “From the outset, we were both frustrated with the procurement system and deeply concerned by some of the simple mistakes made across the UK through a lack of experience of procuring the PPE needed.
“As an established safety business, we feel it’s our duty to report on our experiences and to support the Government in continuing to help deal with the pandemic. We urge the Government to act on our recommendations to ensure we can all be better prepared for any future emergencies.”
In its report, Arco calls for the Department of Health and Social Care to conduct a thorough review and stress test of its systems. And, for the government to reform its purchasing portal to “screen out” unsuitable, or unqualified companies.
Responding to the report, a spokesperson for DHSC said it had received an “extraordinary response” to its call to supply PPE and that offers were prioritised “based on volume, price, quality and lead time.”
The spokesperson continued: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver more than 5.1 billion items of PPE to the frontline so far, and almost 32 billion items have been ordered to meet the future needs of health and social care staff.
“As set out in our PPE Strategy, we have built a stable and resilient system, including four-month stockpiles to ensure that health and social care sectors have access to PPE to meet future need.”
DHSC added that 70 per cent of PPE is expected to be supplied by UK manufacturers through the winter, for all items except gloves.