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Press releases

Government Has Got Rid Of Over 3 Billion Pieces Of Unused Covid PPE

The government has removed billions of pieces of PPE. (Alamy)

4 min read

The government has removed billions of items of PPE it bought during the pandemic from its stocks, with more than one billion pieces set to be incinerated.

The figures, released in a government report on Thursday, relate to Covid personal protection equipment (PPE) the government purchased in response to the pandemic for use in health and social care settings. 

"In total, up to 28 February 2023, 269,500 pallets of PPE have been removed from stock," the government report reads.

"This equates to 3.14 billion items removed through a mixture of recycling, energy from waste (EFW) processes, donations and sales."

Around 1.4 billion items have been earmarked to be burned to produce energy, with 1.47 billion recycled; 108 million pieces of PPE will be donated, and 161 million sold. 

Countries that have received donations include Brazil and Pakistan, with domestic events including the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games also receiving PPE from the stockpile.

"The department now holds more PPE than is required for the remaining stages of the Covid pandemic," the report read.

"This includes items that are not considered suitable for supply to frontline services in the NHS and other items that are surplus to requirements, or where the product is likely to reach its expiry date before being used.

"To make best use of public money, the department started a policy to reduce the amount of excess stock it holds."

The government has repeatedly faced criticism over its management of PPE during the pandemic both due to lack of preparedness initially and lack of transparency over subsequent procurement contracts. 

In 2021, then health secretary Matt Hancock was found to have acted unlawfully by a high court judge for failing to publish multimillion pound PPE contracts within the legally required time period.

In June 2022, the Public Accounts Committee said around £12bn had been spent on PPE that either did not meet NHS standard so was not used, was not the PPE preferred by NHS staff, was defective, or was written down to reflect a fall in prices. 

The committee also warned that the government plans to burn £4bn of unusable PPE to create energy would be costly to the environment and the Treasury, and described the government's PPE purchasing as "perhaps the most shameful episode of the UK government response to the pandemic". 

"At the start of the pandemic health service and social care staff were left to risk their own and their families’ lives due to the lack of basic PPE," said the committee's chair, Meg Hillier

"In a desperate bid to catch up, the government splurged huge amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush during which they chucked out even the most cursory due diligence.

"This has left us with massive public contracts now under investigation by the National Crime Agency or in dispute because of allegations of modern slavery in the supply chain."

In November 2022, the government and Conservative peer Michelle Mone came under scrutiny after it emerged the government had issued multi-million pound contracts to PPE Medpro in 2020. The Guardian reported that Mone, who took a leave of absence following the story, was connected to the company. She denies any wrongdoing.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has since commenced legal action against PPE Medpro for the £122m cost of the PPE, which included 25m surgical gowns, and storage costs after officials at the NHS depot in Daventry rejected the items after inspection.

Responding to the latest PPE figures, a DHSC spokesperson said: “Our priority throughout the pandemic was saving lives – and we make no apology for erring on the side of caution and ensuring the NHS had the PPE it needed to deal with in the worst-case scenario.

“This meant we were able to keep our NHS open and protect as many people as possible.

“We continue to sell, donate, repurpose and recycle PPE in the most cost-effective way to reduce excess stock, including donating millions of items to more than 40 countries."

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