Health bosses today slammed the government for ‘breaking promises’ to frontline workers over the supply of PPE after it emerged a shipment of 400,000 gowns from Turkey has been found to be useless.
The Turkish gowns were ordered last month amid great fanfare from ministers but the delivery descended into farce after arrival was delayed and RAF planes were sent to collect them.
It has now been revealed the equipment is sitting in a warehouse near Heathrow Airport after inspectors discovered it fell short of UK standards amid reports the sleeves were the wrong length.
Critics have accused ministers of presiding over an ’embarrassing’ debacle as calls grow for the government to seek a refund.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis hinted this morning the government will try to get taxpayers’ money back – but he did not guarantee it.
Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the problems with the shipment ‘show the absolute danger of making promises when you can’t be sure you can keep them’.
‘We know that the number of gowns, or masks or aprons or the type or the quality of equipment is not always what it says on the box,’ he said.
‘We have warned that setting targets that are not met or saying it is all going fine when in the frontline it manifestly in places is not going fine, undermines confidence and it undermines confidence not just of our members, local leaders, but among frontline staff.
‘I think the message is it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way round.’
Mr Lewis was asked on LBC if ministers will try to get a refund and he replied: ‘The health department will be looking at all of those issues and I know the team at the health department will be looking to ensure we get a positive outcome from this.
‘At the moment, quite rightly, their core focus is on securing the PPE, of the right quality, that we do need to make sure our frontline staff have got the kit that they need.’
400,000 gowns ordered by the UK from Turkey are now sitting in a warehouse after inspectors deemed them useless. Pictured is an RAF C17 plane at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, unloading PPE after arriving from Turkey
The shipment was announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on April 18 to much fanfare
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, pictured on Sky News today, suggested the Department of Health will seek a refund over the Turkey shipment
Boris Johnson prepares to loosen UK lockdown
Boris Johnson is preparing to begin loosening draconian lockdown rules on Monday with a five-step plan to save the economy – as the government drops its ‘Stay at Home’ message.
The shape of the ‘new reality’ Britons face is starting to emerge, with curbs on outdoor activities set to be eased and businesses encouraged to find ways to get back up and running amid social distancing rules.
The lockdown measures are formally due to be extended this evening, after the Cabinet and Cobra meets to consider the desperate crisis gripping the nation.
But the ‘exit strategy’ will not be announced until Sunday, when Mr Johnson will address the public to lay out the ‘easements’ to the misery of combating the deadly disease.
The gravity of the situation the UK faces was underlined today as the Bank of England warned GDP will plunge nearly 30 per cent over the first half of this year, and unemployment could hit 9 per cent.
The overall 14 per cent slump estimated for 2020 would wipe around £300billion off output and represent the worst recession for more than 300 years. Extraordinarily, former chancellor Alistair Darling warned this morning that the Bank might have been too optimistic.
The stay at home message will be replaced with a ‘be careful when you’re out’ mantra, according to one Cabinet minister, who added that the easing of lockdown will be based on how much each step of the plan affects the rate of infection – or R.
The government is thought to have drawn up a draft 50-page blueprint to gradually ease lockown in staggered steps between now and October.
This blueprint is expected to lead to a five step roadmap to see Britain leave lockdown completely by Autumn – but an ’emergency brake’ could be applied if a second wave of the deadly virus arrives.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the Turkish gowns shipment was ’embarrassing’ for the government as she urged ministers to boost supply of PPE.
Speaking on LBC, Ms Dodds said: ‘I think it is embarrassing obviously and it looks like there wasn’t proper quality assurance on those supplies.
‘But the critical thing is how are we going to sort this out for the future, because we’re talking to frontline workers in care homes in particular saying they are really concerned because they don’t have access to the protective equipment they need.’
Ms Dodds also accused the government of failing to utilise British manufacturers in increasing supply.
‘We’ve got great British manufacturers who are crying out to be involved in this effort,’ she said.
The original shipment from Turkey was announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on April 18, with the minister claiming that 84 tonnes of PPE would arrive the next day to aid NHS staff in the fight against coronavirus.
But delivery was delayed as an RAF plane was then sent to collect the gowns only for it to be forced to wait at a Turkish airport after it was discovered the government apparently forgot to check whether the supplier had an export license.
An international blame game with Turkish officials followed before the shipment eventually arrived in the UK on April 22.
But in another farcical turn, Health and Safety inspectors have branded the 400,000 gowns useless and they are now sitting abandoned in a warehouse.
Millions of masks bought from factories in China have also been impounded after being found to fall below UK standards – though there are fears some have already been used by NHS staff while treating patients.
It is unclear if the government will be reimbursed after the materials failed to meet UK standards.
Senior NHS sources suggested problems had been found with the type of material used and the length of the sleeves of the gowns.
Mark Roscrow, the chairman of the Health Care Supplies Association, which represents NHS procurement teams, asked why government officials had failed to carry out proper checks before spending taxpayers’ money.
He told the Telegraph: ‘Something very wrong has happened here.
‘It’s not clear to me why we weren’t able to obtain samples in the usual way, and to see that these gowns weren’t fit for purpose.
‘We are being told that the people in charge know how to secure this vital equipment on our behalf, but the checks and balances clearly haven’t been applied correctly. This equipment is still desperately needed at the front line, especially as hospitals begin to reopen other services which also require high quality PPE.’
According to sources, the delivery of the gowns, dubbed ‘Air Jenrick’, was organised at the last minutes as pressure relating to PPE shortages grew.
Downing Street reportedly ignored a Department of Health warning not to announce the delivery of the PPE from Turkey in April.
Senior officials are thought to have warned No 10 and Mr Jenrick that any public confirmation of the plane-load of PPE could backfire.
But Mr Jenrick was authorised to announce its imminent arrival on April 18, a decision which sparked major embarrassment when it became clear it would not be ready in time.
The following day, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to admit the equipment would not arrive on schedule.
UK officials had first contacted the Istanbul-based firm behind the shipment, Selegna, two weeks earlier after it had offered to help.
The final order was signed on April 17, prompting Mr Jenrick’s press conference promise.
He said: ‘Today I can report that a very large consignment of PPE is due to arrive in the UK tomorrow from Turkey, which amounts to 84 tonnes of PPE and will include for example, 400,000 gowns – so a very significant additional shipment.’
NHS sources have suggested problems had been found with the type of material used and the length of the sleeves of the gowns
It is unclear if the government will be reimbursed after the materials failed to meet UK standards. Pictured is another order of PPE being delivered to the UK on April 10
However, the shipment was delayed, with an RAF plane only dispatched to pick up the items two days later.
The plane then waited at an airport for 24 hours after it was found that an export licence had not been signed.
The Turkish government then apparently stepped in, ordering state-owned health company Ushas to dispatch PPE so the plane could return to the UK.
But the first flight only saw around 32,000 taken back, with two larger RAF planes travelling to Istanbul later that week to pick up the rest of the gowns that were supplied by Selegna.
However, when UK officials inspected the Selegna-made gowns, they found several faults that made them too dangerous for use by NHS staff, according to The Telegraph.
Last month, a spokesman for Selegna revealed the company had been founded by the owner’s sister just four months before the PPE controversy.
It originally produced shirts and tracksuits and only switched to the production of PPE as coronavirus spread around the world.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring PPE, leading to shortages around the world, not just the UK.
‘We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically, and brought together the NHS, industry and the armed forces to create a comprehensive PPE distribution network to deliver critical supplies to the frontline.
‘All deliveries of PPE are checked to ensure the equipment meets the safety and quality standards our frontline staff need. If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes, it is not distributed to the front line.’