Covid Scotland: Less than a day's worth of some PPE supplies held at points in April 2020

Less than a day’s worth of some PPE supplies were held centrally in Scotland at points in April 2020, a new report has found.

The Scottish Government could have been better prepared for the pandemic and did not follow all the recommendations on PPE from previous training exercises, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland found in a briefing published on Thursday.

At times in April 2020, there were just 0.3 days’ worth of long sleeve gowns held in central stocks, along with one day of high-grade face masks and two days of visors.

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Opposition parties said the report exposes a “catastrophic failure” of the Scottish Government to plan for the pandemic.

Nurses at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in April 2020. Picture: Lisa FergusonNurses at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in April 2020. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Nurses at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in April 2020. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The briefing also found soaring PPE costs in the first months of the pandemic cost the NHS more than £37 million, compared to 2019 prices.

Throughout the pandemic emergency procedures have been used to award supply contracts worth £340 million. Of these 78 contracts, 29, worth £98 million, were awarded to new suppliers with no competition.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said the Scottish Government and procurement body National Services Scotland worked well together in the difficult first months of the pandemic, but that more must be done to better prepare for future crises.

The British Medical Association in Scotland said the report reflects the issues raised by staff in the early months of the pandemic.

"It is very concerning to see how short supplies actually were in April last year, and that reflects the real issues and worries we were raising at the time on behalf of our members – and indeed all health and care staff across Scotland who were working throughout the pandemic,” said Dr Graeme Eunson, chair of BMA Scotland’s consultants committee.

Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The new report shows what we’ve been saying for months. The government's PPE procurement was clearly inadequate and unacceptable.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said the report demonstrated the “catastrophic failure” of the Scottish Government to ensure adequate supplies of appropriate PPE at the outset of the pandemic.

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She 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.”

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Scottish Conservative Annie Wells said: “Despite the SNP’s spin that PPE supplies never ran out, this report makes clear that at critical moments, less than a day of some key supplies were available.

“As frontline staff have made clear, the reality is that our NHS was just hours away from disaster because of PPE shortages.”

Both the Scottish Government and NSS welcomed the report.

“Our National Procurement teams worked 24/7 to overcome unprecedented global demand and the collapse of international supply chains,” said Chief Executive Mary Morgan.

"They worked with partners to develop new supply routes to support our social care colleagues, and made direct deliveries to ensure primary care teams received their essential supplies.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “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."

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