A shipment of 400,000 medical gowns from Turkey has been impounded in a warehouse after falling short of UK standards.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) was flown into the UK by the RAF last month but has not been released to NHS staff after inspectors deemed the gowns unsafe for guarding against coronavirus (Covid-19) when treating patients.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the gowns turned out to “not be of the quality that we feel is good enough for our frontline staff”.
The ministerial confirmation of the decision to impound the imported goods is another blow in what has proved an embarrassing episode for the government and its efforts to procure PPE.
Despite Downing Street’s boasts about a large haul of PPE coming from Turkey last month, the shipment was delayed by a number of days and the RAF had to be mobilised to bring the cargo to Britain, arriving at RAF Brize Norton on 22 April.
Number 10 was later warned by health care procurement experts not to promise PPE by specific dates if it could not deliver.
Lewis has now confirmed, more than two weeks after their arrival, that the gowns do not meet UK standards.
Speaking on Sky News, the cabinet minister said: “When we’re securing PPE from around the world you do it based on a set of standards that you’re looking to acquire to, but obviously once it’s here we check that it is good enough for what we want to use, and in this instance some of this PPE turned out not to be good enough.
“There was a view that it was good enough PPE, it is only when it has got here that teams have looked at it again and taken a view that it is not up to the right standard and they’ve decided not to use it.
“I think it is right that if we have got particular standards for what we want our frontline staff to be able to have access to we make sure we stick to that.
“If something isn’t right, if we’re not even sure about it, then I think it is better to be safe and not use that product and stick with products we are confident are the right products and the right standards.”
According to the Daily Telegraph, the faulty gowns have been held in a government warehouse near Heathrow.
It is not yet clear whether the government will pursue a refund over the order.
Issues over the supply of protective equipment such as gowns and masks for health workers have plagued the government throughout the pandemic.
In a statement, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring PPE, leading to shortages around the world, not just the UK.
“We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically and brought together the NHS, industry and the armed forces to create a comprehensive PPE distribution network to deliver critical supplies to the front line.
“All deliveries of PPE are checked to ensure the equipment meets the safety and quality standards our frontline staff need. If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes, it is not distributed to the front line.”
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