The government’s incompetence in securing adequate levels of protective kit for health and care workers made big headlines during the first wave of the virus.
But little seems to have changed months later, after it was revealed that an estimated 11,000 shipping containers of PPE are sitting unused at Felixstowe port, incurring the taxpayer exorbitant fees because the government can’t find anywhere to store it.
Meanwhile, many NHS workers, including speech and language therapists, paramedics and health visitors are still reporting that they cannot get the necessary PPE they need amid the second wave of the virus.
The Telegraph reported on Sunday (November 22) that a massive supply of gloves, aprons and masks is sitting at the quayside at Felixstowe – reportedly enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool five times over.
To deter people from leaving containers and creating a logjam, the port charges sky-high fees if containers are left in the port for more than two weeks. The Telegraph said that according to a pricing document, the port’s owners charge £47.50 a day for each container, which means the government could be paying more than £500,000 a day to store the 11,000 containers.
It is also understood that shipping companies will charge fees if containers are not returned empty on time at a rate of about £75 a day. This means that the government would well be forking out more than £1m a day in taxpayers’ cash just to store the containers of unused PPE.
When reports of the containers first emerged last week, the government reportedly ramped up efforts to move the containers, but as of the weekend, at least 9,000 containers which have been at the port since as far back as August, continue to sit idle.
According to Joylon Maugham QC, founder of the Good Law Project, an organisation which tries to force government accountability through the courts, a significant portion of the glut of PPE will never be used because the PPE items will have passed their sell-by dates.
Felixstowe port owners Hutchinson UK did not comment on the story, but on the port’s website, a statement reads, “a high number of slow-moving containers of PPE occupying storage space”.
The government has not denied the reports of the PPE container logjam at the port – a spokeperson only said that the “amount of PPE held on quay at Felixstowe is already coming down rapidly”.
Earlier this month, Hutchinson UK described ‘chaos’ at Felixstowe port, with the PPE logjam and Brexit stockpiling reportedly behind mounting congestion at the port.
Commenting on the government’s latest failure on PPE, Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said, “The long-running problems with the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) are a national scandal that have shocked the public – and we are now calling for the government’s PPE ‘czar’ Lord Deighton to urgently explain why there are continuing logjams in the supply chain.
“Media reports that the government has been paying £1 million-a-day to store a mountain of PPE desperately needed by NHS staff are very serious and need to be urgently tackled by Lord Deighton who seems to have gone off the radar,” he added.
“Our members on the NHS and social care frontline, such as speech and language therapists, paramedics and health visitors, are still reporting difficulties getting the necessary PPE nine months after the first lockdown.”
“Lord Deighton and his team need to redouble their efforts in knocking heads together across Whitehall after he previously said there would be adequate supplies this winter,” Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say.
“The supply and delivery of PPE have been devilled by variable quality with some items having to be sent back; storage issues; and how the contracts were awarded in the first place to those with close links with the Tory establishment, the so-called ‘chumocracy’, which have undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the government’s Covid-19 strategy.
“All NHS and social care staff must be given PPE, whatever job they have,” he continued.
“All this is happening against a background of an estimated more than 600 NHS and social care workers dying from causes linked to Covid-19 – this PPE crisis needs to be resolved urgently out of respect to their memory.
“Now more than ever these promises need to kept, as the NHS approaches the most challenging of winters.”
The latest PPE scandal comes just days after revelations that PPE suppliers which had political connections were fast-tracked for government contracts.
In a damning new report, the National Audit Office (NAO) uncovered a special ‘lane’ for firms with direct connections to Tory politicians and officials, whose pitches for contracts were automatically considered – these suppliers, numbering almost 500, were 10 times as likely to win contracts.
Now, as the government’s ‘crony-virus’ runs rampant, the Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust have launched a legal challenge against the government for ‘unlawfully’ appointing their politically connected mates into top positions, such as the businesswoman Dido Harding as interim chief of Public Health England’s successor.
Former Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe, another Tory ally and appointee, was installed as director of NHS Test and Trace despite also having no relevant experience.
“Each week it seems another individual secures a role of vital public importance without any advertisement or fair process – and very often that individual has personal and political connections to Government,” the Good Law Project noted on its website.
“Our public bodies perform vital functions. Effective Test and Trace is absolutely key to tackling the pandemic. And we need to have those bodies run by people who are the best placed to do the job at hand, who were recruited through open competition and appointed because of what they know, not who they know.”
By Hajera Blagg