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MATT HANCOCK was condemned by MPs today for claiming that there was “never a shortage” of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Britain during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Health Secretary was also urged by his Labour counterpart to recover taxpayers’ money that the government had spent on “duff” PPE.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged Mr Hancock to apologise for awarding emergency contracts for useless PPE to companies, many of which had no history of supplying such equipment.
Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow mental health minister and a doctor who has worked shifts on coronavirus wards, described Mr Hancock’s claim that there was no shortage of PPE as an “insult.”
She said: “Many front-line workers had to ration protective equipment, putting themselves at risk. Lots of it was inadequate and poorly fitting and some NHS staff had to make gowns themselves from bin bags.
“The fact is, it was a smash-and-grab for Tory donors and friends. And protecting workers who were putting themselves in harm’s way to look after people seems to have been an afterthought.”
In the Commons, Mr Ashworth said that the issues surrounding the government and its contractors’ ability to provide appropriate PPE to the NHS and care workers were widely reported and known.
He said: “So everybody knows — apart from [Mr Hancock], it seems from this morning’s media — that there were PPE shortages.
“The National Audit Office reported on it, we saw nurses resorting to bin bags and curtains for makeshift PPE — hundreds of NHS staff died.
“And his response was to pay a pest control firm £59 million for 25m masks that couldn’t be used, to pay a hedge fund based in Mauritius £25m, again for face masks that were inadequate, and to pay a jeweller in Florida £70m for gowns that couldn’t be used.”
Mr Hancock stood by his claim, insisting that the National Audit Office (NAO) had confirmed that there was “no national level shortage.”
In November, the NAO said that the government was “initially reliant on PPE stockpiles that proved inadequate for the Covid-19 pandemic” as they had been intended for an influenza pandemic.
It also noted that “many front-line workers reported shortages of PPE.”
Last week, the High Court ruled that the Department of Health and Social Care’s fast-tracked awarding at least £10 billion worth of PPE contracts without tender and full transparency was unlawful.
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