Some stocks of PPE in Scotland came within eight hours of running out at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the country’s public spending watchdog.
Audit Scotland said centrally held supplies of key items ran “very low” in April 2020. At points, long-sleeved gowns came within eight hours of running out, there were only 24 hours’ worth of hospital-grade FFP3 masks, and two days’ worth of visors.
Opposition parties said the report demonstrated a “catastrophic failure” of preparedness, but the auditor general for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, said the Scottish government and NHS National Services Scotland “worked well together under extremely challenging circumstances.”
Boyle said the challenge now would be in “developing a longer-term approach to PPE supply and distribution that includes both business-as-usual needs as well as preparing for future pandemics.”
As global supply chains faltered due to extreme demand and overseas factories closing, PPE prices doubled in early 2020.
The report said 29 contracts for PPE worth a total of £98m were awarded to new suppliers with no competition between March 2020 and June 2021,.
Audit Scotland reiterated its earlier finding that despite three preparedness exercises since 2011, ministers had failed to follow up on recommendations to improve availability of PPE and the capability of social care.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “Despite all the warnings and pandemic planning exercises, frontline workers were put in danger by the government’s failings. This must never happen again.
“The Scottish government’s procurement process was not fit for purpose and it is clear that they handed out big-money contracts without the normal due diligence, and questions remain as to whether this represents value for the taxpayer.”
A Scottish government spokesperson pointed out that Scotland never ran out of PPE. “Work undertaken by the Scottish government and its partner organisations at that time included setting up a whole new Scottish supply chain from scratch, with the creation of hundreds of jobs,” they said.
“The Scottish government agrees with Audit Scotland that we need to learn from this pandemic and bring that learning into planning for future pandemics, and that work is already under way.”