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Covid-19: Purchasing Effort

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 3 February 2022

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will update the House on our purchasing efforts in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

A little over two years ago, we and the whole world found ourselves in unprecedented circumstances. We were faced with a virus about which we knew very little, but we knew from day one that our absolute priority was to save lives and protect our most vulnerable. Throughout the pandemic we have worked night and day to make sure those performing heroics on the frontline have the protection they need. This includes making the tough but necessary decisions needed to keep the country safe.

With the pandemic pushing health systems across the world to breaking point, we acted quickly and decisively to protect the NHS and to help it continue providing world-class care to the public. In a highly competitive global market, and with many countries imposing export bans, we were none the less able to secure the personal protective equipment needed. We secured billions of items of PPE, we obtained 30,000 ventilators by the end of June 2020 and we delivered more than 17.5 billion items to protect our frontline workers.

The supply of these vital items helped to keep the NHS open throughout the pandemic, but the scale of the challenge we faced in sourcing them should not be underestimated. The unique and unprecedented situation during the early days of the pandemic led to huge inflation in prices and intense global competition to secure scarce supplies. For instance, the average cost of nitrile gloves increased over sixfold at the height of the pandemic, compared with pre-pandemic levels.

At that time of national emergency, when lives were on the line, we simply had to change our approach to procurement and our appetite for risk. We had to balance the risk of contracts not performing and supplies being priced at a premium against the risk to the health of frontline workers, the NHS and the public if we failed to get the PPE we so desperately needed.

We make no apology for procuring PPE at the pace and volume we did, based on the information we had at the time. The action we took protected thousands of frontline healthcare workers in the NHS and social care. However, now that the world market for PPE has stabilised, the value of some categories of goods is inevitably much lower than the price at which they were originally purchased.

I reinforce to the House that 97% of the PPE we ordered was suitable and fit for use, with only a small proportion deemed unsuitable, and we are actively seeking to recover costs from suppliers wherever possible in those cases. Throughout the pandemic, the Department’s anti-fraud unit acted quickly to investigate all allegations of fraud, and we will be looking to recover any money for damaged or inadequate stock.

We are now in a position where we are confident that we have sufficient stock to cover all future covid-19-related demands, even in the face of the omicron variant. The PPE stocks we secured allowed us to meet demand through 2020-21 and 2021-22, and our existing PPE stocks will continue to support us throughout 2022-23.

We will keep working to maximise value from our stockpile, as the high standards of protection we have set for NHS workers mean that some of it may be able to be used in alternative settings. The Department has set up a redistribution team to identify alternative uses for stock that we do not intend or expect to use. For example, we are donating masks to both the Department for Transport and the Department for Education to aid compliance with face covering requirements on public transport and to support schools following their reopening in March 2021.

Medical professionals in my Department have also been working closely with colleagues in medical surveillance authorities to review stock that has exceeded its manufacturers’ use-by date but is not necessarily unusable. We have also begun a tender for a third-party medical laboratory to provide official testing of PPE products, with a view to extending their shelf life.

During the pandemic, we have taken steps to strengthen this country’s PPE supply chain, including manufacturing more PPE here in the UK. We have now signed contacts with more than 30 UK-based companies, reducing our reliance on manufacturers overseas, and we now have high confidence that we have sufficient stock to cover all future covid-19-related demands.

Getting PPE to those who need it has been one of the toughest logistical tasks of the pandemic. We make no apologies for taking the steps that were necessary so that we could save lives and protect this country in its time of need.

I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement. But what a disgrace that the Secretary of State did not come to the House today, to account for the inexcusable and unacceptable level of waste in his Department, or when the Department first published the accounts, or two days afterwards, when they were reported on the front pages of several newspapers and on broadcast news. Perhaps the Secretary of State’s silence and absence tell us that he is relaxed about losing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, or perhaps it is simply that he is too ashamed to show his face. He had to be dragged to the House and when he was, he bottled it and sent his deputy.

The Department of Health and Social Care snuck out its annual accounts on the final day on which they were legally required, 10 months after the end of the financial year, and, I am sure by total coincidence, at 5.30 pm on the day Sue Gray published her update. Buried on page 199 was the revelation that the Department lost a staggering £8.7 billion on PPE. That is more than two thirds of the Department’s total spend on PPE written off as losses, double the amount it is spending on the hospital building programme, and almost as much as we spend on the salaries of every nurse in England for an entire year. Why? Because the PPE was unusable, going out of date, and bought in at eye-watering prices because the Government were in a state of desperation having run down our supplies before the pandemic arrived.

We know that many Conservative Members privately—sometimes even publicly—agree with Labour that the national insurance rise is an unfair hit on working families facing a cost of living crisis. How will they explain to their voters that, taken together with the £4.3 billion they handed out to fraudsters, this Government have thrown away more than a year’s receipts of the national insurance rise that they are now imposing on working families?

It is not just that the Conservatives are the party of high taxes because they are the party of low growth; they are the party of high taxes because they are the party of waste and incompetence. Think of what the NHS could have done with those funds. It could have reduced waiting lists and waiting times, improved access to GPs and rebuilt hospitals for the 21st century.

Of course covid came as a shock, but that does not explain why the Conservative Government ran down Britain’s supply of PPE before the pandemic, leaving us exposed to price hikes and profiteering. Perhaps the Minister can explain why a global pandemic necessarily leads to Conservative party donors and the former Secretary of State’s pub landlord receiving special treatment and hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

It is not just PPE. Why did the Department fail to collect shipments from ports on time, costing taxpayers £111 million in additional fees? Why did the Department fail to pay its bills on time and incur late fees of £1.6 million as a result? Why did the Department spend £250 million on testing materials, ventilators and medical equipment, none of which can be used?

Is not it the case that when this Conservative Government thought no one was watching, they abandoned any pretence of being careful stewards of public finances, bunged millions to their mates and donors, and now working families are footing the bill? What would Mrs Thatcher, the grocer’s daughter, whose father instilled in her the value of thrift, make of this lot?

Is not the truth that the Conservative party has changed? You cannot trust this Conservative party to show respect to the people or to Parliament. You cannot trust this Conservative Party to keep taxes low. You cannot trust this Conservative Party to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. Indeed, the only thing that has not changed about the Conservatives is the age-old truth that you cannot trust the Tories with the NHS.

It is always a pleasure to appear opposite the shadow Secretary of State. I will not take it as a personal affront that he would prefer it to be the Secretary of State rather than me.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of important points. He cited Mrs Thatcher, and suggested that the Government had changed their position. If we are talking about sudden changes in position, I feel that I should quote the present shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves)—formerly shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—who, in April 2020, wrote to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster:

“We need Government to strain every sinew and utilise untapped resources in UK manufacturing, to deliver essential equipment to frontline workers. This must be a national effort which leaves no stone unturned.”

She was right. I agreed with her sentiment then, and I still do—and we did do that—but it appears that the Opposition do not agree with it any more.

Let me turn to the hon. Gentleman’s other points. He kept suggesting—it makes a good headline for him, I am sure, but sadly I fear it is simply inaccurate—that this is money lost or wasted. It is not. As the hon. Gentleman knows from his days as a shadow Treasury Minister, this is a reflection of buying PPE at the height of the market, at the height of a global pandemic—

I will come to that point in a moment. It is a reflection of that, and now, in accounting terms, a reflection of what its value is today.

The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the vast bulk of that £8.7 billion is down to exactly the same reason: PPE purchased at the height of the market. Now that we have a stable market, we have a sustainable supply. I make no apologies, and I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends will make no apologies, for doing exactly what the shadow Chancellor said we should do, which was to strain every sinew to make sure that the NHS had the PPE that it needed. We achieved that.

That is an important point, and I will turn to it in just a second.

The hon. Gentleman was also wrong to say that the money was thrown away. He knows that that is not what has happened here. He knows that this is about stock that has been written down in value, not written off. He knows that the vast bulk of that remaining is fit for use. We set very high standards in the NHS, but it is fit for use in other settings, and we are ensuring that we explore those other avenues, so that it can be used.

The hon. Gentleman talked about pub landlords. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) make this point in the Chamber. No contract was awarded to that individual, so I would caution him to be a little bit careful about the allegations he makes, and to check his facts before he does so.

Let me now turn to one of the broader themes raised by the hon. Gentleman. He talked about running down PPE stocks. Can he name any country in Europe that did not also have to buy vast amounts of PPE at the height of the pandemic, at the height of the market? This pandemic was unprecedented. We learned more about it with every day that passed. When we first started purchasing PPE, we were confronted with horrific pictures from hospitals in Bergamo in Italy. We saw the challenges that were faced, and we moved fast to ensure that our frontline had what it needed. We strained every sinew, and we got the PPE that our country needed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the revaluation of the stock simply reflects global market price fluctuations? Will he confirm that the PPE is being used? Will he also disregard the comments from Opposition Members, who are peddling known inaccuracies and whose comments on the finances show them to be utterly economically illiterate?

My hon. Friend puts it even better than I could have done. He is absolutely right to emphasise that this is a reflection of our straining every sinew to buy what we needed at the height of the pandemic, with inflated global prices, to give our NHS workers the protection that they needed. The global market has now returned to normal levels, and that, coupled with the fact that we have helped to stimulate and build a UK manufacturing base for PPE in this country, is a simple fact of economics. The shadow Secretary of State, who I think was formerly a shadow Exchequer Secretary, should know that. Sadly, the fact that that is not reflected in his comments, for whatever reason, causes me to question how much the Labour party has really learned about how to manage our nation’s finances and economy.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Yet again, this Government are set rigid on making the working poor pay for their ineptitude and mismanagement. We know that £4.3 billion has been wasted, written off as covid loan fraud. We know that the Government spent £12 billion on PPE in England up to March 2021, of which £9 billion has been declared by the Government themselves as “wasted”—[Interruption.] We have some chuntering from those in a sedentary position, but I will continue.

Does the Minister believe that wasting all that money spent on PPE is a sign of good governance, when £2 of every £3 spent on VIP lane contracts was wasted due to so-called errors in supply? Now hard-working people will be taxed £12 billion by this Government to pay for their mismanagement, when the Bank of England has just told us that UK households must be warned to “brace themselves” for the biggest annual fall in living standards in 30 years, since records began, and inflation is set to soar to 7%. Why is his Government not vigorously pursuing companies that provided £9 billion-worth of useless PPE equipment to ensure that they pay it back? Will he assure the House that his Government will pursue that with complete vigour?

Kleptocracy is defined as a situation where politicians enrich themselves or their associates through the funnelling of public money and assets to their connections outside the rule of law—a statement we know all too well in this House. Given that the UK Government’s VIP, Tory crony fast lanes for Tory party associates have been declared unlawful in the Court of Session and seen billions of pounds wastefully funnelled to politically connected friends of this Tory Government, does the Minister agree that his Government are fast becoming a kleptocracy?

In general, and certainly after that contribution, I will take no lessons in financial illiteracy from the SNP. The hon. Gentleman regularly, in that contribution, referred to £8.7 billion or £9 billion—rounding, if he wishes to—as wasted. He will know that, as I have set out, it is not wasted. It is a write-down on the value of stock, but it is not wasted. That stock is available. That is the point I make to him. The vast majority of that stock is available and in warehouses. This is an accounting point about the value of what was paid at the time compared with its value in a recovered market.

I will pick up one point I missed with the shadow Secretary of State, who I hope will forgive me. He mentioned ventilators, and I apologise for not answering that point. In the case of ventilators, we followed the scientific advice at the time, which was that ventilators were the most effective way of treating those who were severely ill. Thankfully, due to amazing advances by our clinicians and scientists and to the action taken by this Government, we did not need them and the treatments available improved significantly. Again, I make no apologies for our being prepared for all eventualities.

To conclude on the contribution of the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), I reiterate the same thing: we make no apologies for having strained every sinew—in a global pandemic, at the height of the market, when some countries were imposing export bans—to purchase the PPE to protect our frontline workers. I also pay tribute to the officials who worked flat out, often through the night, sourcing the PPE. They were the ones assessing it, and they were rigorous in their assessments. I put on record my tribute and my gratitude—

I think the hon. Gentleman nodded assent, so we may be in agreement on that point. I put on record my tribute and my gratitude to them for all their hard work to protect the frontline.

In reality, back at the beginning of the pandemic, the Opposition were calling for the Government to go faster. It seems to me that one of the great success stories of this Government is that they got the PPE and the ventilators and, by doing so, saved a lot of lives. Does the excellent Minister agree that, unfortunately, the rhetoric coming from the Opposition now is completely different from what it was at the time of the pandemic?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Far be it from me to suggest that hindsight characterises the approach adopted by Opposition Front Benchers, but he is absolutely right. I mentioned the shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves). She also said in this place:

“Those who look after the sick and the vulnerable deserve our protection, and getting PPE to them is the priority of all of us.”—[Official Report, 4 May 2020; Vol. 675, c. 412.]

She was absolutely right and remains right, and that is why this Government did exactly that. Protecting the taxpayers’ pound is hugely important. Equally, so too is procuring the kit that protects lives. In the unique circumstances that we faced at the time in 2020, I believe that this Government made the right choices.

For context, £9 billion would have given every NHS nurse a 100% bonus on their salary or it could provide the funding needed to solve the issue of autistic people and people with learning disabilities being detained in inappropriate units because no funding is available to support them in the community. Instead, it is clear that large amounts were wasted on unused and unsuitable PPE, some of which, we understand, will have to be burned. I remind the Minister that we could have had a stockpile of PPE in this country if Exercise Cygnus in 2016 had been handled responsibly. Exercise Cygnus showed gaping holes in our emergency preparedness and we have to learn the lesson from that.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady; to be fair, we may not always agree, but she always makes thoughtful points and knows this subject well. However, many right hon. and hon. Members across the House have regularly said that Exercise Cygnus gave everyone everything they needed to know in how to manage this pandemic, which is completely not the case. That was a flu pandemic exercise with a number of preconditions, one of which was that, at a certain point, it was assumed that antivirals would become available within—I think, off the top of my head—nine weeks of the pandemic beginning. That was not the case, because we were dealing with a completely new virus, so although there are valuable lessons to be learned, we need to be very careful about drawing direct parallels.

The hon. Lady rightly talked about the sum of money and highlighted the impact. She is right that £8.7 billion is a very significant sum of public money, but she also must acknowledge that that £8.7 billion was not wasted, because the PPE exists. This is an accounting point about what the purchase price was compared with the value now, with a stable marketplace for that. Only a very small fraction of that stockpile has been deemed not fit for use and, in those cases, we continue to investigate, through contractual mechanisms and elsewhere, what we can do to recover that money.

The embassy of one of our major international partners had to send staff to Sofia with a suitcase of money handcuffed to their wrist in order to procure PPE for their health and social care. Does my hon. Friend not think that the Opposition would be better off celebrating the herculean efforts that meant that PPE could be got to our NHS providers and our local authority and social care providers, rather than engaging in such transparently cynical party political point scoring?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. As I said in response to the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), I hope the whole House could agree on paying tribute to all those civil servants and others who moved heaven and earth to ensure that we got the PPE that we needed for the frontline. That is the most important factor. We did what we needed to get the PPE to protect people and to protect lives.

Private Eye has uncovered £600 million of PPE contracts awarded to Unispace Global, an interior design company, through the VIP lane. The Department has paid the money to Unispace but it is not shown on the company accounts, so will the Minister strain every sinew and will there be an investigation to account for the £600 million of public money?

In any circumstance where a contractual obligation has not been met or where goods that have been supplied do not meet that—I am not suggesting that is the case in this situation—we will look into it. The hon. Gentleman mentions company accounts, but that is a matter for the company and its filing of accounts; it is not a matter for Her Majesty’s Government.

There has been a lot of unhelpful speculation about loss and wastage of PPE in recent weeks. Some of this speculation is blatantly false, and it is important that we do not overly politicise the issue, because the Government acted to do the right thing at the right time. The use of language is also really important. Does the Minister agree that this is not about outright loss and that it is about accounting write-down?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the issue absolutely. I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who is no longer in her place, that a small proportion of this £8.7 billion went on PPE that did not meet the standard, and we continue to pursue those contracts and investigate them. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that the vast majority of this money purchased PPE that was delivered and is usable, and the difference in money reflects the fact that we bought at the height of a global pandemic, doing whatever was needed to get the supplies we needed. Of course, in the two to two and a half years since, that market has stabilised, with significantly more manufacturing also in this country.

The Minister mentioned in his statement that the Government took these difficult decisions to keep the country safe. The hard-working staff in St Thomas’ Hospital in my constituency took the decision to come to work every day during this pandemic to keep the country safe. The Minister mentions that this is a value of accounting and it is not real money. Can he tell me: how much more could we have got for nurses for that £8.7 billion? My local nurses who are watching this statement are thinking that they could have done with that pay increase.

The hon. Lady will know that I have not said that this is not real money; I have said that what has been published here in the accounts is what is required for an accounting purpose. The PPE was purchased, and that was done at the height of a global pandemic and at extremely inflated prices, because every country was desperately seeking to acquire the PPE that was needed. That situation has stabilised over the past two years and PPE can now be purchased for a much, much cheaper rate. Again, I make no apology for our purchasing this PPE to protect these very nurses, who did an amazing job in her local hospital, from the effects of covid.

This Government acted quickly and decisively to secure as much PPE for the frontline as possible and as many vaccines as possible, while the Labour party carped from the sidelines, attacked the vaccine taskforce and played politics, just as it is doing today. On vaccines, will the Minister join me in welcoming the decision by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to approve the Teesside vaccine, Novavax, which is being manufactured in Teesside for use in the UK?

That was a dexterous way of weaving together PPE and vaccines, but my hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the amazing work done by the vaccine taskforce and by officials and others across Government in meeting the needs of our population during the pandemic. Of course I join him in welcoming the Novavax vaccine and the opportunities it presents for wonderful Teesside.

I do not think anyone in this Chamber has said, at any point, that things should not have moved quickly to secure PPE. Nobody, on this side at least, has said that this should involve the use of a VIP lane, crony contracts or contracts for pals. I am sure that the Minister will say that all these allegations are entirely unfounded, and I understand his point of view on that. Given that, will he put Government backing behind my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill, to ensure that such actions could not happen in the future without this House being made fully aware of them?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for, as ever, dextrously mentioning his Bill. I think he has done that to me once before when I have been at the Dispatch Box discussing similar issues. I am sure that Ministers, and indeed the Leader of the House, will read it very carefully.

In the early months of the pandemic, getting PPE to Kettering General Hospital and local care homes was the absolute No. 1 priority. A very sophisticated distribution network had to be established involving the Army to ensure PPE was delivered to the right place at the right time, as best as possible. I believe that, starting from scratch, only 1% of certain PPE products were actually made in this country and over the course of the pandemic that has been increased to 70%-plus. Can my hon. Friend the hospitals Minister assure me that, God forbid, were we ever to have a pandemic again, we could source most of our PPE requirements from British manufacturers and that we now have a robust and resilient supply and distribution chain?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and join him in paying tribute to the work of his local healthcare system during the pandemic. He makes a couple of points. First, he is absolutely right to highlight that this was ramped up at pace. Initially, the NHS supplied PPE directly to about 250 hospital trusts and other trusts. In the early months of the pandemic, that was ramped up to supplying it to well over 50,000 different settings. That is a phenomenal ramping up of logistics and distribution capabilities. To his second point, he is absolutely right that, from about 1% of PPE being manufactured in the UK before the pandemic, we now have the capacity to manufacture about 70% of the PPE it is currently assessed we need in this country. That is a great British success story.

What is absolutely clear from Exercise Cygnus is that the specific recommendations on PPE were not implemented by the Government. That led to the massive rush to purchase PPE during the pandemic. That added to the problem; it was not the only reason for it. The Government’s defence on the scandals of the contracts seems to be that we had to act very quickly. If that is the case, it does not explain why a disproportionate number of the contracts ended up in the hands of people who were members of the Conservative party, close associates of members of the Conservative party, or had given money to the Conservative party. If you were casting your net far and wide, you would not expect that to come to light, would you? You would expect there to be quite a wide number of contracts being issued. So the Government’s excuse does not hold water, does it?

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about speed and the context in which we were operating. I have to say all contracts were assessed through an eight-stage process undertaken by neutral civil servants. As the National Audit Office found, Ministers were not involved in the award of contracts.

As a chartered accountant, I am au fait with the concept of an accounting write down and the scale of this one really does indicate reckless waste. I am sure that, in my constituency of North Shropshire, the £9.7 billion carelessly wasted could have been put to better use. It could have been used to tackle the extremely high ambulance waiting times, to help the local accident and emergency tackle the huge challenges it faces in getting patients through, or to deal with the £50 million black hole that social care in Shropshire is facing in two years’ time. Across the country, the story is very much the same. Local health services are struggling to find the money to deal with those issues. I am sure Members across the House know those issues all too well. That is why £9.7 billion wasted on PPE is so shocking. What are the Government doing to allocate resources to sufficiently recover that money?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. I do not think I have had the opportunity to respond to a question or a speech from her previously, so I congratulate her, slightly belatedly, on her election and welcome her to this place. I will just correct one thing. She mentioned £9.7 billion. The sum involved is actually £8.7 billion.

To the hon. Lady’s point, first, it is not wasted. As I made clear, it purchased PPE. There is a small amount in these accounts which has been made clear. The shadow Secretary of State said that it was snuck out. If I recall, I tabled a written ministerial statement to draw attention to these issues to be open and transparent with the House, as I always endeavour to be. We did whatever was needed at the time, in the context of the highly inflated pricing in the midst of a global pandemic.

More broadly, the hon. Lady touched on NHS funding and pressures. I appreciate that she was not a Member of this House at the time, but this Government have put in record funding for our NHS. One of the first Acts after the 2019 election enshrined in law a £33.9 billion increase by 2023-24, and we are also putting in place the health and care levy to both assist our NHS and provide that sustainable footing for social care in the future. I acknowledge entirely that she was not a Member of this House, so it would be wrong to draw any inference as to how she may have voted, but I want to put that record investment on the record.

I also gently say that the Liberals’ stance on this issue shows, even by their standards, a degree of political contortion and a stretching of credibility. I think I am the only Member who has been a Health Minister throughout this pandemic, and I recall them desperately calling in 2020 for whatever it took to get and buy more PPE to protect the frontline. I agreed with that stance, but now they are suggesting that the Government got it wrong by prioritising whatever it took to get the PPE that the frontline needed.

The Minister has said that we were prepared for all eventualities, but I think he knows that the truth is that that was not the case. As illustrated in comments by Members across the House, we did not plan ahead sufficiently for what was needed in a pandemic.

The Minister said in his statement that 97% of the PPE ordered was suitable for use. Obviously, that means that 3% was not. He also said that the Government are actively seeking to recover costs from suppliers where possible in those cases. Does he not realise that that is a very weak way of responding to that challenge? What safeguards were put in place in those contracts, and will he publish for the House updated data on suppliers that are not refunding the taxpayer—suppliers that took public funds and did not deliver the goods?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking a sensible and serious question. We have already recovered, through prevention or termination of contracts, £157 million of potential fraud. We continue, with our anti-fraud unit, to look into a number of contracts where there is either a contractual dispute or a risk of fraud. There are contractual mechanisms for reconciling or trying to manage situations in which both parties have different interpretations of whether what was delivered is what was ordered. We are already looking into more than 100 contracts in that respect. As those investigations develop, I hope I will be able to update the House further, but it necessarily takes time to have conversations with contractors through those contract dispute mechanisms and to investigate. I hope that, as we are able to bring forward more information, we will make it available to the House.

Good afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can the Minister confirm whether any of the promised £350 million a week advertised on the side of a bus as a benefit of leaving the European Union has been used to purchase PPE for the NHS?

The NHS and the Department get their annual budgets and spend them on what is necessary to meet the health and care needs of the nation. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, he might characterise the £33.9 billion increase by 2023-24, which we have enshrined in law, as part of the Brexit dividend.

It is always a pleasure to ask a question in this House, at whatever time, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I thank the Minister and the Government for their endeavours during the pandemic? I do not think that anybody in this House does not recognise that, without the Government’s initiatives, these things would not have happened.

I understand the pressure that the Department of Health and Social Care was under at the outset of the pandemic to ensure that staff were not taking their lives in their own hands when they entered hospital. But Minister, reports of £8.7 billion losses are astounding. Will there be a full investigation into the scale of loss and the reasons for the loss? I understand the problems at that time—I really do—but think of the good that that money could have done to address waiting lists and new cancer drugs. Minister, what has happened grieves me in my heart, and I suspect it grieves you in your heart—

Order. Please will the hon. Gentleman not call the Minister “you”? It is my ambition that he will one day get this right—please, please.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have made it clear throughout that our priority was getting the PPE that we needed to give that protection and to save lives but, equally, every pound of taxpayers’ money is valuable. Where fraud or failure to deliver contracts is evidenced, we will go after that money, quite rightly, and seek to recoup it for the taxpayer.

On the amount that is, for want of a better way of putting it, lost through goods not being fit for use, that is £673 million, but that is what we are investigating through those contract dispute resolution mechanisms and through anti-fraud work. The other amounts of money in here did purchase PPE, which was delivered and which we have. Different settings require different standards of PPE, so some that was purchased may not be of the standard for the NHS but can be used elsewhere. We are exploring all options to make sure that the PPE we have, where it can be, is used.