LONDON – The UK government plans to burn billions of pounds (dollars) in hastily purchased unusable personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, a public spending watchdog said on Friday.
The idea of burning face masks, gowns and other equipment to generate power did not impress the oversight committee. The panel is investigating how the government came to spend £4billion ($5billion) on protective gear that has to be thrown away because it’s faulty or doesn’t meet British standards.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said the government planned to dispose of 15,000 pallets a month of the equipment “via a combination of recycling and burning to generate electricity”.
“The costs and environmental impact of disposing of surplus and unusable PPE are unclear,” the committee noted.
Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, a professional body, accused the government of “sending billions of pounds up in smoke”.
The government said not all 4 billion pounds of equipment would be burned. The Department of Health said only around 670 million pounds ($835 million) of the PPE was “unusable in any setting”. He said some of the excess stock would be repurposed for use by dentists or donated to charities, transport agencies and other countries.
In a report, the Accounts Committee found the Department of Health lost 75% of the £12billion it spent on PPE in the first year of the pandemic due to inflated prices and faulty products .
Opposition Labor MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said the PPE saga was “perhaps the most shameful episode in the UK Government’s response to the pandemic”.
“The government spent huge sums of money, paying grossly inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush, during which they rejected even the most superficial due diligence,” she said. .
Government Minister Robin Walker acknowledged on Friday that “mistakes were made” at the start of the pandemic. But he said it was “a completely unprecedented situation” in which countries around the world were scrambling for supplies during a health crisis.
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