Call for PPE procurement inquiry as Government accused of wasting £150m on millions of unusable masks
A consignment of 50 million masks for NHS staff costing £150m have been deemed unsafe (PA)
Opposition parties are calling for an investigation into the Government’s procurement of PPE during the coronavirus pandemic after millions of unusable masks were bought from an investment firm.
The NHS has deemed the supplies - which were part of a £252million contract signed with Ayanda Capital in April - unsafe as they use the wrong kind of straps, court documents have revealed.
The deal included provision of 50 million high-strength “FFP2” medical masks, costing an estimated £150 to £180million.
But according to legal papers seen by The Times there are concerns they cannot be fixed to healthworkers securely because they use elastic ear loops instead of straps that tie around the back of the head.
Ayanda have insisted the masks meet the specifications the Government had set out when it made a call early on during the pandemic for companies to supply them with extra PPE stocks.
And Tim Horlick, the company’s CEO, said none of his company's products have ever been rejected by the Department for Health for any reason.
He said: "In summary the masks met all Government specifications and standards, the masks are not unusable or unsafe and the Government has not wasted any money in purchasing these masks."
The firm also supplied 150 million Type IIR masks, which are subject to different regulations and may be used on the frontline once the NHS has completed further testing.
The information came out after ministers sent a legal response to a case brought by the Good Law Project, which is seeking a judicial review of the PPE procurement process.
The Government has also disclosed the original approach to sell the Ayanda Capital masks came from a businessman called Andrew Mills, whose firm Prospermill had secured production from a factory in China and was able to offer a large quantity almost immediately.
According to the BBC, the legal document says Mr Mills requested the Government instead sign the contract with Ayanda Capital, whose board he advises, because it could arrange overseas payment more quickly.
Mr Mills, who is also an adviser to the UK Board of Trade, told the BBC his position played no part in the award of the contract.
And Ayanda Capital Limited said in a statement: "The masks supplied went through a rigorous technical assurance programme and meet all the requirements of the technical specifications which were made available online through the government's portal.
"There are provisions in our contract for product to be rejected if it did not meet the required specification as per the contract. These provisions have not been activated."
But Labour are calling for the National Audit Office to set up an inquiry following the revelations.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “The Conservative Government failed in their duty to fully protect those working on the frontline during those crucial early months of this pandemic.
“It is astounding that ministers allowed the national PPE stockpile to run down and then spent millions with an offshore finance company with no history of providing vital equipment for the NHS.”
She added: “The case for the National Audit Office to investigate the Conservative Government’s mishandling of PPE is overwhelming and as well as apologise, ministers must urgently learn lessons to save lives in the future.”
Liberal Democrat MP and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus Layla Moran said: "The government has serious questions to answer over this shocking waste of taxpayers' money.
"We urgently need a clear strategy for procuring PPE so that NHS and care staff on the frontline are not left without.
"That should include a review of the process for handing out contracts to prevent these colossal errors from happening again.”
And the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas tweeted: “PPE contracts are a scandal. UK has spent much more on PPE than any other EU country, 73% of contracts approved without competition, money handed to a banker and others with no record in medical equipment.
“Another reason for an urgent public inquiry.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters in response to the news: "I'm very disappointed that any consignment of PPE should turn out not to be fit for purpose."
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said they were not able to comment on the individual contract due to the ongoing legal proceedings.
But a government statement said: "Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline.
"Over 2.4 billion items have been delivered, and more than 30 billion have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply, which meets the needs of health and social care staff both now and in the future.
"There is a robust process in place to ensure orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with the necessary due diligence undertaken on all government contracts."
The Welsh Government meanwhile distanced itself from the England-only contract.
A spokesperson said: “We have not had a contract with Ayanda Capital to supply NHS Wales and the FFP2 mask, referenced in the HSE alert, is not part of the core range of PPE in Wales.
“All products sourced during the pandemic were subject to the required regulatory standards and checks were undertaken on all products to ensure such compliance.
"Any PPE products sourced which did not meet the required standards were not considered for purchase and rejected at the assessment/triage stage.”