UK purchase of PPE is the procurement gift that keeps on giving

Having spent most of 2020 criticising the procurement response of the UK Government to the covid-19 pandemic, those decisions are now coming home to roost. Back in February we found out that £8.7B of the £12.1B of PPE purchased in 2020-21 was 'lost' and now we find out that £4B will be burned for energy since such PPE does not meet the NHS standards via a report from the Commons Committee of Public Accounts.

I have explained multiple times that buying via non-competitive means what was needed immediately was illegal since it breached the rules for the use of negotiated procedure without prior notice whose grounds for use are exceptional and narrow.

Having said that, the issues with PPE procurement are once more a great example of why we have the rules we have in procurement: they exist to avoid terrible procurement, not to enable great purchasing. Jumping the rules led the DHSC into the need to burn useless PPE as well as these issues:

"The Department’s subsequent review of the 364 PPE contracts it entered into identified concerns about 176 (48%) contracts. Of these 176 contracts, 24% are either currently under commercial negotiation (59 contracts); legal review (27 contracts); or in mediation (3 contracts)."

That is the DHSC internal audit or review systems working to solve the mess created upstream. But the Committee pointed out a few extra procurement shortcomings:

  • Procurement systems were overwhelmed during the pandemic
  • No resilience plan for the NHS supply chain
  • Public spending rules were not followed
  • Lack of transparency on declarations of interest

Someday we will really find out what happened in those crucial months in 2020 and when that happens let's hope the lessons are indeed learned this time around

Read more