UK watchdog fumes over ‘unacceptable’ £15bn waste on unused Covid PPE

Covid: Expert says ‘we need public inquiry’

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The National Audit Office (NAO) has slammed the Department of Health, accusing it of “wasting” £15billion of taxpayer funds on unused Covid-19 PPE supplies over the past two years. The NAO, which is the UK’s independent public spending watchdog issued a damning statement, describing the waste of funds by the Government body as “extraordinary”. The head of the NAO criticised the reckless spending at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spending, pointing to billions of pounds in taxpayers’ cash written off and Government accounts so poorly managed that they could not be audited. 

The accounts seen by the watchdog, showed that the DHSC and its agencies wasted a collective £6billion on PPE, vaccines and medication that will not be used or were overpriced in 2021/22, according to the Telegraph. 

They also found that in the previous year, the Government body wasted another £9billion for the same, amounting to a staggering £14.9billion of waste in two years.

However, the Government defended its spending, arguing that it had to buy these supplies in the middle of an “overheated” market, and that their purchases helped save countless lives.

However, the spending watchdog criticised the Government for such poor financial control that auditors were unable to even sign off the accounts for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is part of the Department of Health.

Meg Hillier, the chairman of the public accounts committee, which scrutinises public spending, described the scale of waste in the health department as “extraordinary”.

She added: “It is astonishing and unacceptable that the UKHSA – an agency within DHSC that absorbed the work of Test and Trace – could not provide the National Audit Office with enough information to carry out its 2021/22 audit.

“The Department and UKHSA must get a grip on fundamental failures in governance, oversight, and financial controls so UKHSA’s accounts can be audited.”

She noted that the UK taxpayers had a “right to know how their money is being spent”, adding “it is another reminder to Whitehall about the vital importance of proper controls in public procurement, including during a crisis.”

Documents reveal that even as recently as March last year, the Department of Health was spending £24million a month on storing PPE, with much of it being unusable. Meanwhile total storage and disposal costs have piled up to £319million.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, slammed the Government for having a lack of sufficient appropriate audit evidence and significant shortcomings that were so severe that he was unable to provide an audit opinion on the accounts of UKHSA.

He added that even accounting for the challenging conditions the UKHSA faced during the pandemic, it was unacceptable that the health body had not been able to provide transparent, auditbale accounts.

He said: When setting up new bodies, it is essential that basic governance arrangements are put in place. DHSC and UKHSA must work with HM Treasury to get on track to produce auditable accounts.

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Labour joined the watchdog in criticising Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Government, with Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, saying: “The Conservatives can never again claim to be the careful stewards of the public finances.

“While Rishi Sunak had control of the purse strings, a staggering £15billion of public money was wasted on useless PPE – enough to fund the police force for an entire year. Instead, that money is now literally going up in smoke. Taxpayers will rightly judge the carelessness with which the Conservatives treat their money to be an absolute scandal.”

A Government spokesman said: “It is misleading to say that £14.9billion of taxpayers’ money has been wasted. In the face of an unprecedented pandemic, we had to compete in an overheated global market to procure items to protect the public, front-line health and care workers and our NHS.

“Buying vital Covid vaccines and medicines also helped save countless lives and keep NHS and care staff safe. Our approach meant that we were the first country in the world to deploy an approved Covid vaccine, with 144 million doses administered, and we have delivered over 25 billion items of PPE to the front line.”

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