Government should apologise over ‘duff’ PPE, says city MP Jon Ashworth

Jon Ashworth says Health Secretary Matt Hancock should apologise over awarding health contracts during the pandemic to companies which provided “duff” personal protective equipment, (PPE).

The Leicester South Labour MP and Shadow health secretary urged ministers to “commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money” from companies which provided inadequate face-masks and gowns.

But Mr Hancock said his team’s decisions ensured there was “no national level shortage” of protective equipment, and that they did “the right thing”.

It comes after a judge ruled Mr Hancock had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed.

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Speaking during health questions, Mr Ashworth told the House of Commons: “So everybody knows, apart from (Mr Hancock) it seems from this morning’s media, that there were PPE shortages.

“The National Audit Office reported on it, we saw nurses resorting to bin-bags and curtains for makeshift PPE – hundreds of NHS staff died.

“And his response was to pay a pest control firm £59 million for 25 million masks that couldn’t be used, to pay a hedge fund based in Mauritius £252 million again for face masks that were inadequate, and to pay a jeweller in Florida £70 million for gowns that couldn’t be used.

“So will he take this opportunity to apologise, and will he commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money from those companies who provided us with duff PPE?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Of course where a contract isn’t delivered against we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money, but of course, also, we wanted to make sure that we got as much PPE as we could into the country.

“And whilst of course there were individual instances that we all know about and that highlight how important it was to buy PPE, there was, as the National Audit Office has confirmed, no national level shortage and that was because of the incredible work of my team and the amount of effort they put into securing the PPE and doing the right thing.”

The Health Secretary added that he hopes care staff will listen to chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty who said they have “a professional responsibility” to get vaccinated.

Asking for assurances that staff can get vaccinated when second doses arrive in care homes, SNP health spokeswoman Dr Philippa Whitford told the Commons: “The provision of insufficient doses for care home staff to be vaccinated at the same time as elderly residents may have contributed to only two-thirds being immunised.”

Mr Hancock responded: “I hope that care home staff and NHS staff across the board will listen to the words of the chief medical officer, who said it is the professional responsibility of people who work in care settings to get vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do.”

Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall, who represents Leicester West, also called on the Health Secretary to “urgently set out precisely how the Government will increase uptake” of the vaccine among care home staff.

Liz Kendall

Mr Hancock replied: “The challenge is uptake, so rather than having a political ding-dong about it, what we all need to do is get the positive messages out about the vaccination programme and I’m delighted that the care minister and the vaccine deployment minister have both been working incredibly hard at this.”

In a later response to Labour former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi admitted “there is still work to do in ensuring certain groups take up the vaccine”.

Mr Zahawi told the Commons: “Overall we are encouraged by the vaccine uptake in the most vulnerable groups with over 17.7 million people in the UK having now received their first vaccination.

“To date, black people who account for around three per cent of the population make up 1.7 per cent of those vaccinated, whilst white people who account for 86 per cent of the population make up 82 per cent of all those vaccinated in England.”

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