Boss of Hull-based Arco faced 'frustrations' as he attempted to supply PPE during pandemic

The chairman of a Yorkshire-based specialist safety company which helped to curb the spread of SARS and Ebola, has said he faced a “disorientating and frustrating” experience as he attempted to supply life-saving PPE to the Government during the height of the pandemic.

Thomas Martin, outlined the company’s concerns about the procurement system set up by the Government at the start of the pandemic, when he appeared before a Parliamentary committee

Thomas Martin, of Hull-based Arco, outlined the company’s concerns about the procurement system set up by the Government at the start of the pandemic, when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee.

Arco has proposed a 10-point set of recommendations to prevent a repeat of the problems related to the supply of PPE during the first wave of the crisis and to ensure the country is better protected in any future pandemic.

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Speaking after he appeared before MPs, Mr Martin, said: “We know that the PPE procurement structures have been through an unprecedented level of stress over the past year, for us, this meant frustration at times, and led to otherwise avoidable complications.

“We understand that DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) and its partners had to build a new system from scratch and scale it up at pace, but unfortunately doesn’t offset the fact that the central PPE supplier portal did not function as intended.”

Mr Martin said Arco had PPE stock that was needed but received no response to its offers of help and no central guidance about where it should be directed “with incredibly limited and sporadic uptake of those offers we did make”.

Mr Martin added: “With our track record in supporting public health responses to serious outbreaks, including Ebola, SARS and Foot and Mouth, this was a disorientating and frustrating situation for us. While we were able to offer our support more broadly across the NHS and Social Care systems directly, at a time when there was a clear demand for huge volumes of protective equipment, it seemed unusual that we were not able to provide more support than we did.

“Much has been made of VIP lanes and influence over the past few weeks – all we know is that we had a constructive relationship with commercial contacts across Government, and offered our services as a market-leading expert provider.

“Like many trapped in the system, we attempted to reach out to those holding the levers across Whitehall, but without success.”

Mr Martin said Britain had an opportunity to lead the world in PPE manufacturing. He urged the Government to approve a formal register of approved PPE suppliers.

He added: “You can do PPE procurement in a cost-effective, safe way. But you must not do it on the cheap.

“We are disappointed to hear that defective product made it into our PPE ecosystem over the past year and even more so that it made it into the hands of front-line NHS workers.”

A Government spokesperson said: “In response to this global pandemic our top priority has always been saving lives. We issued a public call to action to support the increased requirements for PPE resulting in over 24,000 offers of support from over 15,000 suppliers.

“An assurance process was in place and offers were assessed against set criteria. Offers were prioritised based on volume, price, clinical acceptability and lead time.

“We have delivered over 11 billion items of PPE to protect our frontline workers and, as the NAO ((National Audit Office) report recognised, all NHS providers they spoke to were able to get the equipment they needed in time.”

All PPE procurement went through the same process and all offers were assessed against the same standards, according to the Government spokesman.

The statement added: "Credible offers of PPE came from a variety of leads and all leads, no matter from what channel, went through the same eight step process, including volume and lead times, quality checks, price controls and other due diligence.

"The Government took numerous steps to grip the scale of demand, increase supply and expand distribution from early on, building towards the beginnings of a full Parallel Supply Chain in March, and operationalised by 1 April 2020.

"We have robust rules and processes in place in order to ensure that conflicts of interest do not occur."

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