DHSC gears up to spend £95m on shipping in PPE and medical supplies next year

Freight and logistics deals will be used to import diagnostic kits and equipment used to fight Covid-19
Photo: David Jensen/EMPICS Entertainment

The Department for Health and Social Care is preparing to spend up to £95m to import personal protective equipment and other medical supplies needed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic next year.

The department will begin procurement next month for up to £95m worth of freight and logistics contracts to import PPE, diagnostic kits and other medical products from international sources.

Transport companies will be invited to bid to move supplies via air, sea, road and rail. They will also be expected to provide ground transport and to deal with customs requirements and handling at transport terminals.

The contracts will run for a year, from February 2021 to the following March, and give DHSC the option of adding a year’s extension.

“Note that this value is an estimate and is based on current understanding of requirements and market conditions. This value is subject to change,” a pre-tender announcement said.

The department said it expects to publish a formal invitation to tender next month. It will also be running “market engagement events” for potential suppliers, it said.

CSW has contacted DHSC for a comment.

Watchdog criticises ‘enormous’ spend on PPE

The freight and logistics deals are separate to contracts to buy the medical supplies themselves.

PPE procurement in particular has generated significant controversy over the course of the pandemic, with massive shortages reported in the first wave of the coronavirus. A National Audit Office report published last week found the UK’s pre-coronavirus stockpile was “inadequate”, amounting to only two weeks’ worth of PPE .

DHSC then had to pay vastly over-inflated prices to procure equipment needed during the pandemic, the NAO found.

Buying supplies in a “chaotic” sellers’ market led to the department “wasting hundreds of millions of pounds”, the report said.

“The department had to pay such high prices because it was in the position of needing to buy huge volumes of PPE very quickly,” the report said. The department spent an “enormous” £12.5bn on 32 billion items between February and July – £10bn more than they would have at 2019 prices, the watchdog found.

The report came after concerns about the way suppliers were prioritised and chosen to supply medical equipment needed to tackle Covid-19. In a separate recent report, the NAO found businesses that were referred by ministers and civil servants were referred to a priority queue where their bids were processed more quickly, and warned of a “lack of transparency and adequate documentation of some key decisions” in the awarding of contracts.

Responding to the most recent NAO report, health minister Jo Churchill said: “As the NAO report recognises, during this unprecedented pandemic all the NHS providers audited ‘were always able to get what they needed in time’ thanks to the herculean effort of government, NHS, armed forces, civil servants and industry who delivered around 5 billion items of PPE to the frontline at record speed.

“We set up robust and resilient supply chains from scratch and expanded our distribution network from 226 NHS trusts to over 58,000 health and care settings. With almost 32 billion items of PPE ordered we are confident we can provide a continuous supply to our amazing frontline workers over the coming months and respond to future eventualities.”

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