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PPE Procurement Statement December 2022

09 December 2022

As the decisions around the awarding of PPE contracts during the pandemic make the news again, we thank Karl Turner, MP for East Hull, for acknowledging the difficulties we faced at the time in supporting the national effort to supply PPE and protect lives.

With over 135 years of experience as a safety expert and PPE supplier we were in a strong position to procure and distribute PPE that was compliant with the correct safety standards and that was ethically sourced.

Having previously supported the UK Government to assist with advice and product procurement during crises such as the Ebola epidemic and Swine Flu pandemic, we were frustrated that we were unable to work with central government to supply PPE where it was needed most.

We accept that this period was a challenging time for the Government, but we are pleased that the "VIP fast-track lane" for awarding PPE contracts was ruled unlawful. The awarding of contracts opaquely to organisations with no history or experience in PPE supply and manufacture meant that public money was spent on contracts where some suppliers imported inappropriate or non-compliant products. This left them unable to fulfil orders or supply appropriate PPE, increasing the risk to care home staff, NHS workers and the public.

The lack of preparation for a health emergency prior to the pandemic put lives at risk, we have always felt that it was important to learn from what went wrong and to take steps to rectify these. Our Chairman, Thomas Martin, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee in 2021 to share our experience in dealing with central government during the pandemic. Our position paper: Personal Protective Equipment and the Government's Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic shares our experiences during the pandemic and proposes a 10-point set of recommendations that will help prevent a repeat of the issues that continue to come to light today.

We acknowledge the positive and constructive way in which the Department for Health and Social Care has engaged with the content of our position paper so far and we urge Ministers to consider its remaining recommendations. Most urgently, we are calling for a register of accredited Category II and III PPE suppliers. This will ensure we can be better prepared for any future emergencies.

Thomas Martin, Chairman of Arco, said:

"Whilst we appreciate there was an urgent requirement for PPE for frontline responders at the beginning of the pandemic and that the Government was facing unprecedented and challenging circumstances, we still believe that, with our track record in sourcing, emergency planning and distribution of PPE, the Government could have engaged more proactively with Arco to benefit from our expert knowledge to support the process.

"We understand that there was a cost of £8.7bn incurred because of the Government buying equipment that was not fit-for-purpose, paying increased prices in a competitive global market and purchasing products that subsequently had passed their expiry date. Of most concern was the £2.6bn that was spent on PPE not suitable for use in the NHS.

"We still feel that there are important lessons to learn from what went wrong and Arco remains ready and willing to work with the Government and its agencies to ensure that we are better protected for any future emergencies."

You can read Arco's position paper in full, here.