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Report on government PPE procurement crisis

09 December 2020

WITH THE Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic coming under growing parliamentary scrutiny, Arco has published a Position Paper: Personal Protective Equipment and the Government’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

With a right and responsibility to comment, Arco’s report offers insight into their experiences dealing with Government bodies and other agencies as part of the PPE supply chain. It proposes a 10-point set of recommendations to prevent a repeat of the high-profile issues that were seen during the first wave of the crisis and to ensure the country is better protected in any future pandemic.

With over 135 years of safety experience, its own UKAS-accredited product assurance lab, a 400,000 sq ft National Distribution Centre and a team based in China, Hull-based Arco has been at the forefront of the most significant recent global emergencies, including the response to both SARS and Ebola outbreaks. When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in the UK, the company played a key role in the response, navigating the global supply chain restrictions that led to an international shortage of certain types of PPE. Arco’s product and supply chain specialists worked quickly to source, procure and distribute over 140 million face masks, 18 million gloves, over 50,000 coveralls and 5,000,000 hygiene products to the NHS, ambulance services, other public health bodies, local authorities and critical industries.

The first stage of the crisis saw a severe global shortage of PPE at a time of exceptional demand and a poor centrally coordinated response. Early in the pandemic there were many examples of a broken supply chain with frontline workers left without critical PPE. A number of suppliers, like Arco, were holding stock but unable to work with the Government and its agents to supply PPE where it was needed the most. More recently, a National Audit Office Report has highlighted examples of PPE supply contracts being awarded opaquely to organisations with no history of PPE manufacture and supply, who were ultimately unable to fulfil orders. In some cases, non-compliant products were supplied that increased the risks to the public, care home staff and NHS workers. Much money was spent unnecessarily. 

To address these issues and ensure future preparedness, Arco has developed a set of recommendations based on its experiences during 2020, set out in its Position Paper. Key highlights include:

  1. Registration of competent PPE suppliers to be allowed to supply Cat II and Cat III products, ensuring product compliance and quality.

  2. The Department of Health and Social Care to conduct a thorough review and stress test of its systems from the perspective of suppliers and buyers.

  3. Reform of the Government’s purchasing portal to screen out unsuitable, or unqualified, companies.

  4. An education programme to upskill NHS Trusts, local authorities and care home procurement officers in how to understand PPE standards and source and purchase suitable equipment.

  5. The Government to publish a roadmap for the full reimplementation of the PPE Regulations, to reduce the likelihood of poor quality or ineffective products entering the UK.

Thomas Martin, Arco’s chairman said, “2020 will be a year that none of us forget. It has been a year of sadness and uncertainty for so many people. Our core purpose is to help keep people safe and we responded immediately the pandemic was declared, working 24/7 to help make sure those at the frontline of the response were properly protected. 

“From the outset, we were both frustrated with the procurement system and deeply concerned by some of the simple mistakes made across the UK through a lack of experience of procuring the PPE needed. The NAO report and findings very much reflect this experience. As an established safety business, we feel it’s our duty to report on our experiences and to support the Government in continuing to help deal with the pandemic. We urge the Government to act on our recommendations to ensure we can all be better prepared for any future emergencies.”

To see the full report visit www.arco.co.uk/recommendations