Former Tory councillor got £120m ‘VIP lane’ government contract for face shields now lying unused

The shields could not be used at all last year during the peak of the first and second waves of the pandemic

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Sunday 25 July 2021 20:07 BST
<p>Most of the equipment was not able to be used as it wasn’t CE marked</p>

Most of the equipment was not able to be used as it wasn’t CE marked

A former Tory councillor was given a £120m government contract for personal protective equipment (PPE) which is now lying unused because of concerns about its quality, it has been revealed.

Steve Dechan, who owns medical device manufacturer Platform-14, had his offer to supply protective equipment from China fast-tracked through the government’s controversial “VIP” lane.

The Sunday Times newspaper reports that fewer than 1 in 400 of the face shields procured by the company on behalf of the government have been used, because the regulator does not believe they meet the right standards.

The original order for 120 million shields has delivered just 274,200 into the NHS supply chain, representing 0.23 per cent of the overall stock.

It means the shields used so far have cost the equivalent of £423 each, despite similar ones being available to buy online for less than £1.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has to authorise all PPE that is not CE marked (an EU designation that means it complies with European standards).

But the regulator said: “None of the documentation provided to HSE indicated the product to be CE marked.”

The regulator wrote to officials in September last year saying the shields “cannot enter the NHS supply chain” and repeatedly refused to approve them.

But in February, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) stepped in and directly approved the face shields, with 274,000 used in the NHS so far. At the height of the pandemic last year, none could be used.

Mr Dechan told The Sunday Times that the “application and usage [of the shields] is entirely a matter for the DHSC”.

He said they had met “the required standards” and added: “As an NHS supplier for nearly 10 years, we will continue to provide innovative solutions and support trusts and patients across the UK.”

The reports come amid concern about the government’s procurement during the pandemic. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that firms referred to the VIP lane were 10 times more likely to have been given government contracts to supply PPE.

The NAO, the government’s spending watchdog, said in a report in November 2020 that there was a “lack of transparency and adequate documentation of some key decisions, such as why particular suppliers were chosen, or how the government identified and managed potential conflicts of interest in the awarding of some contracts”.

Another report released by the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Sunday said that the government is still wasting vast amounts of money on PPE that is “not fit for purpose” a year and a half into the pandemic.

Official figures show that overall nearly 7 per cent of all items purchased by the DHSC have failed quality checks, while ministers are spending £6.7m every week to keep the items stored.

An eye-watering 2.1 billion items have already been found unsuitable for use in medical settings, and 10,000 shipping containers are still to be unpacked.

The same committee also warned of “significant financial risks for decades to come”, with the estimated lifetime cost of all the government’s Covid measures reaching £372bn in May 2021.

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