“Inadequate” government planning and a lack of PPE left frontline workers “risking their own and their families’ lives during the early stages of the pandemic, an MPs’ report has found.
The Public Accounts Committee report said the Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) decision to prioritise hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic left social care workers exposed to the virus.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Committee, said: “Frontline workers were left without adequate supplies, risking their own and their families’ lives to provide treatment and care. We’re at a dangerous new phase of the pandemic, in our third national lockdown with no defined end in sight. The government needs to acknowledge the errors and be better prepared.”
The report says the DHSC “wasted hundreds of millions of pounds” on “poor quality” PPE that could not be used for its intended purpose.
While noting the DHSC assertion that no care setting ran out of PPE, the Committee heard “compelling evidence” from front-line organisations that stocks ran perilously low; single use items were reused and some were not fit for purpose – including reports of expired, substandard, deficient or even insect-infested supplies – with staff in fear that they would run out.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said ministers had forgotten about social care in the rush to protect the NHS with “deadly consequences” and called for a public inquiry.
“Care of the elderly and the vulnerable should never have been cast out to a fragmented, dysfunctional private sector,” Christina said. “Major reform to create a national social care service mirroring the NHS is needed now.”
Social Care Institute for Excellence Chief Executive Kathryn Smith, said: “When the pandemic hit we said on many occasions that there was an ongoing need for both PPE supplies and training on how to use it; along with COVID-19 testing. Many social care providers had to find their own PPE supplies for some time. We also know that the first lockdown was a challenge, not just for care settings but also for policymakers who had to act quickly.
“This report is important because the sector and policymakers can take some of the lessons learnt and apply them to the vaccination programme as this is rolled out to all care settings and to those who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.’’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been working tirelessly to procure, produce and deliver PPE to over 58,000 settings, protecting our health and social care staff on the frontline of this pandemic.
“As the Public Accounts Committee recognises, the Government faced significant challenges in having to rapidly procure PPE at pace in a competitive international market. Thanks to the combined effort of Government, NHS, Armed Forces, civil servants and industry we have delivered over 8.1 billion items of PPE at record speed.
“We have a robust processes in place to ensure PPE meet the strictest safety and quality standards before being distributed to the frontline.”