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Personal Protective Equipment Supplies

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

What steps his Department is taking to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for (a) health, (b) social care and (c) other frontline services during the covid-19 outbreak. (908867)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for (a) health, (b) social care and (c) other frontline services during the covid-19 outbreak. (908915)

We have a four-month stockpile of all covid-critical PPE in place. Thanks must go to the tremendous contribution from UK manufacturers, including Honeywell in Motherwell in Scotland, which now meet 70% of our PPE needs. We have distributed 4.7 billion items, ensuring health and care providers and others have access to the critical protective equipment that they need to help keep everyone safe.

According to Treasury figures, the UK Government have spent £15 billion to date on PPE contracts, and the majority to date have been awarded without open tendering, often to those with connections to the governing party or to companies with no PPE experience at all. Does the Minister consider it is acceptable that, instead of that resource being used to protect frontline healthcare staff, so much of it has been squandered on millions of items that are absolutely unusable because they do not meet NHS standards, and how does she propose to restore this Government’s reputation for competence, probity and openness in the tendering process?

The global pandemic presented us with unprecedented challenges in securing the volumes of PPE required. We moved swiftly in order to make sure that we kept people safe. We procured goods and services, and worked with extreme urgency in accordance with procurement rules and Cabinet Office guidance. All offers were prioritised based on volume price, clinical acceptability and lead time. I am happy to reiterate: we have four months’ supply.

The UK Government removed the zero VAT rating for PPE on 1 November, increasing costs by 20%. Social care and other frontline services are already having to pay higher prices and to buy larger quantities of materials, so why are this Government making it even more expensive to protect key workers during what is the second wave of covid?

I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman. In the main, many of our frontline operators are getting it free—social care, general practice, dentistry, optometry and so on. The relief was designed specifically to relieve the burden of VAT on sectors particularly affected by coronavirus while supply did not match demand. Now the Government are able to supply covid-related PPE across all sectors, the burden of VAT will still not fall on frontline providers for all covid-related PPE and demand will be met. Most businesses that make taxable supplies can recover the VAT that they incur on purchases of PPE as business expenses. They will therefore be able to reclaim all VAT after the 31st. But I reiterate: for the majority of frontline healthcare, it is free.

The price of an FFP2 mask bought by the Government increased by 1,400% in just six weeks to the end of May and gowns by 350%. I welcome all efforts by the Government to procure PPE, but I have concerns that we may not be getting a fair price. One company, PPE Medpro Ltd, was given Government contracts worth over £190 million. PPE Medpro Ltd had no previous experience and coincidentally was only set up on 12 May 2020. Reports have suggested that the company has substantial links to Conservative party donors, so can the Secretary of State or the Minister categorically assure the country that no Conservative party donors are profiteering from the pandemic?

Our plan on PPE has to be to stabilise the system and build resilience. That was outlined in the PPE strategy published on 28 September. [Interruption.] Children! Thank you.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but it is that old habit from being a mother of four.

We procure goods and services, as I have said, with extreme urgency in accordance with procurement rules and Cabinet Office guidance. We are confident of our supply, with four months’ worth of covid-critical PPE, over 70% of it now manufactured in the UK, providing UK businesses with jobs and ensuring that all health and care providers have access to critical protective equipment needed to keep patients and staff safe.