The Public Accounts Committee has given the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) two months to report back with a plan to ensure PPE provision during a second Covid-19 spike.
The influential group of MPs said they were ‘extremely concerned’ by PPE shortages faced by NHS and care workers during the first wave of the pandemic in the UK.
According to the DHSC it never ran out of stock of PPE but rather Covid-19 had ‘put supply chains and distribution networks under unprecedented strain’, posing challenges with ensuring the right equipment was at the right place at the right time.
The report from the PAC said: ‘We are extremely concerned by the widely reported shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) faced by NHS and care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.’
It added that the Government had conveyed its intentions to continue to buy the vast majority of its PPE on international markets.
But the PAC said: ‘Although the Department says it is committed to building up stocks to meet longer-term demand, we were not convinced that it was treating the matter with sufficient urgency.
‘In particular, the governance arrangements to procure and distribute PPE across health and social care remain unclear and uncertainty prevails around future provision of local PPE across the health and social care sectors. It is absolutely vital that the same problems do not happen again in the event of a second wave.’
The report recommended that the DHSC write to it within two months to ‘clarify its governance arrangements and outline at what point in the future it expects to have a predictable supply of stock and ready access to PPE supply within the NHS and care sectors’.
‘This should include detail on the roles and responsibilities for the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment across NHS and social care settings,’ the report said.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: ‘The Government conducted a large pandemic practice exercise in 2016 but failed to prepare. The previous Committee warned on the lack of plans to ensure access to medicines and equipment in the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, but, again, the Government failed to prepare.
‘There must be total focus now on where the problems were in procurement and supply in the first wave, and on eradicating them.’
This comes after pharmacy teams in England were been told to dispose of any unused out-of-date Cardinal Health Type IIR face masks sent to them by wholesalers in March and April.
The face masks, sent to community pharmacists as well as other primary care clinicians, were well past their 2016 expiry dates. But this had been concealed with a sticker displaying a 2021 expiration date.