DHSC writes off almost £10bn of PPE

Government’s £13.6bn spend on PPE now worth £3.7bn
PPE. Photo: Siraj Ahmad/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

26 Jan 2024

Almost three-quarters of the £13.6bn the government spent on personal protective equipment during the Covid pandemic has gone to waste.

The PPE bought by the Department of Health and Social Care for the pandemic in 2020-21 and 2021-22 is now worth £3.7bn, National Audit Office chief Gareth Davies said in an assessment of the department’s management of PPE.

Some £9.9bn has been written off the value of equipment due to it being either unusable or its market price falling. Reasons for PPE going to waste include products being defective or not suitable for use within the health and social care sector, or DHSC not being able to use it before its expiry date.

DHSC will dispose of “nearly all” of its PPE stock, Davies confirmed.

The figures are revealed in the comptroller and auditor general’s report within DHSC’s annual report and accounts for 2022-23.

The accounts also show that the government has prevented or recovered £202m of PPE procurement fraud out of the £13.6bn spent.

Davies said: “Ongoing efforts to detect, prevent and recover fraud must continue, improving public confidence that this drain on the public finances is being tackled effectively and efficiently.”

‘Deeply unsatisfactory’: UKHSA fails another accounts audit

Davies was forced to qualify his audit opinion on the DHSC accounts for a second year running due to the UK Health Security Agency once again being unable to provide timely auditable accounts.

He said the qualification of the UKHSA’s accounts was due to “a combination of the impact of last year’s disclaimer, reducing the assurance over in-year transactions and opening balances, together with a lack of assurance over closing balances relating to the Covid Vaccine Unit”.

“It is clearly deeply unsatisfactory that I have been unable to provide an opinion on the UKHSA accounts for a second consecutive year,” Davies said. “The department must urgently exercise adequate oversight of UKHSA and the wider group to strengthen its financial governance and control.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesperson said: "It's important not to forget the circumstances in which the UK and countries globally found themselves during a pandemic when globally PPE was in extremely short supply.

"The costs as a result increased significantly, and the government took the decision very transparently to do everything possible to secure protective equipment for frontline health and care workers, that was right."

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