The Department of Health and Social Care has told MPs it is stepping up its programme to get rid of a £4bn stockpile of personal protective equipment that was procured during the early days of the pandemic, but which cannot be used by the NHS.
Earlier this year, the department appointed waste firms Suez and Veolia to dispose of the surplus PPE on a £35m contract – with the suggestion that products that were unusable within the health service would either be recycled or burned.
In June, members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said DHSC had effectively lost £9bn of the £12bn spent on PPE during the first year of the pandemic because of “inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements”. They demanded an update on the department’s work to dispose of the excess and unusable PPE.
In its official Treasury Minute response this month, DHSC says Suez and Veolia began “recovery” work in May, and recovered 4,000 pallets of PPE during their first month.
“It is expected that this will have increased to 15,000 pallets per month in the next few months,” DHSC said.
Earlier this year the National Audit Office said total storage costs for PPE incurred by the department since the start of the pandemic had hit £737m by November 2021.
The department said in its response to MPs that to reduce the costs of storing PPE that will not be used, it is “focusing efforts on accelerating the disposal programme”. It also suggested that incinerating stock for power generation was still seen as a major part of the solution.
“While the priority remains to keep selling, repurposing and donating the stock, the department will maintain a pragmatic approach to managing stock and develop solutions that make sense economically and environmentally,” MPs were told.
The department said work was still under way on finalising detailed product-level plans for the disposal operation. It pledged to update MPs over the summer on timescales and recovery rates.
DHSC also said it would provide an update to MPs on the PPE contracts it is currently in dispute over, either because the products supplied were sub-standard or because they never arrived.
Elsewhere in its response, DHSC told MPs it is currently just over half way through implementing a six-month “commercial reset” designed to scale up commercial capability across the department following shortcomings exposed during the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It said the process had been designed to bring about a range of benefits, including clearer lines of responsibility and accountability, strengthened commercial governance and clear escalation processes, reinforcement of best-practice behaviours, and compliance with procurement policy and process.