Britain 'missed three chances' to bulk buy PPE

Britain reportedly missed three key opportunities to join a £1 billion bulk buying schemes to fight the coronavirus outbreak. 

Amid growing anger around the supply of masks, gloves, gowns, ventilators and other specialist equipment, The Guardian reported that the UK failed to join EU schemes which could have supplied all three en masse. The country has also not been part of crucial talks about future supplies, the paper added, citing internal EU documents.

The first deliveries of a haul of PPE worth around £1.3 billion is expected to reach other European medics within days, thanks to a 25-country initiative involving eight companies. Britain was reportedly invited to the scheme through an ‘outdated’ email address.

It follows growing criticism of the government over supplies of medical equipment, with a number of medics and health organisations slating the government’s approach. 

Three nurses forced to wear bin bags as makeshift equipment tested positive for Covid-19 last week, while a doctor who warned the prime minister of the ‘urgent’ need for PPE weeks ago has now died. 

On Saturday the Home Secretary, Priti Patel said she was was ‘sorry if people feel there have been failings’ over PPE. Yesterday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab admitted there are PPE shortages, while the Royal College of Nursing has told medics that they should not treat patients ‘as a last resort’ if they do not have adequate PPE. 

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The government has now shown an interest in being part of the schemes but previously claimed that it could not join the EU’s Joint Procurement Agreement because it had not received an invitation email. The email was in fact sent to an outdated address, according to The Guardian. 

That meant the government did not join the mass buying of ventilators. It was also unable to be part of two rounds of EU bulk buying PPE, on February 28 and March 17.

Amid suggestions that the scheme is likely to face supply chain issues, the first round initially failed but was relaunched on March 15, offering more time for the UK to get involved.

But the country only took part in its first meeting on March 19 and then did not attend a meeting of health officials when future needs were discussed six days later.

Since the start of the outbreak, the government says it has delivered more than 761 million pieces of PPE to 58,000 different health and care settings. It is also ‘actively engaging’ with the European Commission on ‘future joint procurements’.

A spokesperson for The Department of Health and Social Care added: ‘We are working round the clock with industry, the NHS, social care providers and the army to ensure the supply of PPE over the coming weeks and months and will give our NHS and the social care sector everything they need to tackle this pandemic – including working with countries around the globe.

‘We are also working with a number of firms to scale up production of existing UK ventilator manufacturers, as well as designing and manufacturing new products from scratch, and procuring thousands more machines from overseas.

‘We will continue to work with European countries and others in order to make sure that we can increase the capacity within the NHS, and we will consider participating in future EU joint procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.’

More than 30 NHS staff who contracted coronavirus are now thought to have died.

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