Matt Hancock accused of misleading MPs over claims there was ‘never’ PPE shortage
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has been accused of misleading MPs over the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last week the Health Secretary told MPs conducting an inquiry into the handling of coronavirus that there was “never a national shortage of PPE”.
But leaked emails sent by chiefs at two NHS trusts last year state that the country was in the middle of a “national shortage” of the long-sleeved gowns used to protect medics at risk of infection from Covid-19.
And senior procurement officials insisted that there were “significant shortages” of several types of PPE, including gowns and FFP3 face masks, last year.
Mark Roscrow, chairman of the Health Care Supply Association, which represents NHS procurement officials: “There were significant shortages.
“There was a point at which different organisations were trying to get their own product into the country and trying to source things from basically wherever they could.
“I think there’s a short memory of the actual reality of the situation as people at the coalface experienced and lived through it.”
Another senior NHS procurement official accused Mr Hancock of “complete spin”.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “To claim there was no national PPE shortage beggars belief. We could all see with our own eyes the pictures of nurses resorting to bin bags and heard stories of doctors going to B&Q for their own visors and goggles. Clinicians said they felt like lambs to the slaughter.
“These emails reveal the reality and suggest the Health Secretary was disingenuous and not straight with the committee. Alongside failing to protect care homes, PPE shortages [were] a devastating failing in the Government’s handling of the crisis.”
During a four-hour long session in front of the Commons health and science committee last week, Mr Hancock defended himself against claims by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, that he had blamed the NHS and Rishi Sunak for shortages of PPE in April 2020.
“We managed to get to the position where, despite the local challenges, and I do not deny at all there were challenges in individual areas, there was never a national shortage of PPE because of the action that we took,” Mr Hancock said.
Mr Hancock’s remarks run contrary to emails sent to staff at Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey and Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust in April 2020. They were first disclosed in a report by The Telegraph on April 12 2020, which revealed that NHS hospitals were resorting to making arrangements to fly in their own stocks from China amid a shortage of gowns.
An email from Martin Barkley, the chief executive of Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, on April 9 2020, stated: “The Trust currently has only a very limited supply of long-sleeved gowns remaining… What has become clear overnight is that this is not just a Mid Yorkshire issue. Most trusts across the region are in a similar position and, in fact, it has been confirmed that there is a national shortage of long-sleeved gowns.”
An “urgent message” to staff at Kingston Hospital on the same day stated: “There is currently a national shortage of gowns… We anticipate reaching the end of our supply of disposable gowns by Sunday… Kingston hospital is working with partners across London to source further supplies of gowns for the weeks ahead.”
Mr Roscrow said: “It was a combination of things, it was absolutely the lack of availability of product. There were [also] distribution issues, there were logistics problems for a whole variety of reasons.”
Mr Roscrow added that procurement officials were informed last year of national shortages “and they were also being told that where possible they needed to apply mutual aid. So [for example] one bit of Manchester could lend to another bit of Manchester. “
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We totally reject this accusation. The Government worked flat out to get the PPE needed for frontline staff amid global shortages, and the National Audit Office recognised all NHS providers they spoke to were able to get the equipment they needed in time.”