Life-saving PPE supplies came within hours of running out in Scotland when the pandemic hit last year, a watchdog investigation has found.
Audit Scotland said that in April last year the nation’s central NHS stockpile had less than a day’s supply of long sleeve gowns, about one day’s worth of FFP3 respirator masks and enough visors to last two days.
It said that worldwide supplies “began to falter” in March, and that by April centrally held stocks were “very low”, although some were stored locally and the situation changed daily.
The findings confirm our exclusive report last year which revealed how NHS chiefs reacted with alarm at the “quite low” stocks of FFP3 masks in Scotland on January 31, the day the UK’s first two coronavirus cases were confirmed.
In private e-mails, they said at the time that the Scottish Government had been “aware of out of stock products for a long time”.
Our investigation later found that a U-turn by the Westminster government had derailed a plan to buy three million of the masks for Scotland between 2016/17 and 2019/20.
Audit Scotland noted that the Scottish Government did not fully implement recommendations from its pandemic preparedness exercises and could have done more to ensure access to PPE.
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “This Audit Scotland report once again exposes the reality of PPE shortages in Scotland at the height of the pandemic.
“Despite the SNP’s spin that PPE supplies never ran out, this report makes clear that at critical moments, less than a day of some key supplies were available.
“As frontline staff have made clear, the reality is that our NHS was just hours away from disaster because of PPE shortages.
“The SNP government neglected to act on pandemic planning exercises. Despite warning after warning, they were unprepared and that drove costs for PPE higher.”
Despite the SNP’s spin that PPE supplies never ran out, this report makes clear that at critical moments, less than a day of some key supplies were available.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “This report plainly demonstrates the catastrophic failure of the Scottish Government to ensure adequate supplies of appropriate PPE at the outset of the pandemic.
“Despite all the warnings and pandemic planning exercises, frontline workers were put in danger by the government’s failings – this must never happen again.”
The report also found that the NHS awarded new PPE contracts using emergency procurement procedures.
This included 78 contracts, worth £340 million, which were awarded to companies providing PPE between March 2020 and June 2021.
A total of 29 of these contracts, worth £98m, were awarded to new suppliers with no competition.
Had the NHS been able to buy PPE at 2019 prices, it would have spent £37.4m less in the first five months of the pandemic.
Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland worked well together under extremely challenging circumstances to set up new arrangements for the supply and distribution of PPE to health and social care settings.
“The challenge now will be in developing a longer-term approach to PPE supply and distribution that includes both business as usual needs as well as preparing for future pandemics.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome this report and the issues it highlights.
Scotland never ran out of PPE. Work undertaken by the Scottish Government and its partner organisations at that time included setting up a whole new Scottish supply chain from scratch, with the creation of hundreds of jobs.”
“Audit Scotland acknowledges that following a dramatic global increase in demand for PPE, the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) acted quickly to secure new PPE supplies.
“Covid-19 brought an unprecedented global demand for PPE.
“In the first phase of the pandemic, there were collapses in the international PPE supply chain, combined with greatly increased levels of demand for PPE in Scotland and around the world.
“Scotland never ran out of PPE. Work undertaken by the Scottish Government and its partner organisations at that time included setting up a whole new Scottish supply chain from scratch, with the creation of hundreds of jobs.
“The Scottish Government agrees with Audit Scotland that we need to learn from this pandemic and bring that learning into planning for future pandemics – and that work is already underway.”