This site uses cookies to bring you the best experience. Find out more
Skip to main content

Catch It, Bin It, Kill It: Corruption

In last month’s blog, Single-Use PPE: Masking Greater Risks? we discussed the myriad challenges posed by the global uptake of single-use PPE, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as the repercussions posed for short- and long-term health; and the consequences to the delicately balanced ecosystems of both urban and rural environments. We further highlighted joint research with MedSupplyDrive demonstrating that the only mask with proven efficacy against COVID-19 contamination was the FFP3 model, and that the standard surgical facemask was ‘unfit for purpose,’ as it allows unfiltered air in from either side.  

Preliminary results of the ongoing reusable respirator survey posted to the MedSupplyDrive Instagram at the beginning of May showed that a staggering 83% of NHS workers do not feel safe at work wearing fluid-resistant surgical masks; and that >85% want a reusable FFP3 respirator, rather than the standard surgical facemask. As this survey continues to request respondents, we would ask that our members complete the form available here, which takes approximately 3 minutes; and that the survey is shared, so that it can be widely disseminated and thus generate the most robust data from UK healthcare professionals.

Whilst surgeons across the country have been divided on whether the guidance for PPE usage by UK public health authorities was adequate, another undeniable aspect of the crisis faced by medics in the UK has been a shortage of PPE.

Groundbreaking research generated by the Confederation of British Surgery in July 2020 documented that a third of respondents said PPE provision was inadequate at their hospital, painting a dire picture of how surgeons have been coping across the nation. Of those who’d identified inadequate provisions, 80% complained of low supplies, rationing and shortages; 70% cited ever-changing or inconsistent guidance; and nearly half said they’d experienced problems with the actual quality of PPE (for example, in some cases it did not fit, or single-use items had to be re-used), but equally shocking, over 10% were told by their employers to keep quiet about problems with PPE. You can read more about this research, as well as comments from CBS’ Executive Board in the September 2020 blog, Groundbreaking Research Makes Headlines Across the Nation.

While many have lamented a lack of mainstream coverage on the pre-pandemic realities faced by the NHS as a result of years of austerity and cuts; the surging number of COVID-19 cases and a series of questionable Government policies have elicited particularly damning coverage both at home and abroad – notably, The New York Times’ 17th December 2020 article entitled Waste, Negligence and Cronyism: Inside Britain’s Pandemic Spending that prompted an official response from the Cabinet Office.

No matter one’s political affiliation, it is impossible to look at the current situation, and what it portends for the future of UK healthcare without a critical eye.

In an article in the BMJ published 08/03/2021, Professor Martin McKee, a professor of European Health and member of Independent SAGE examined lessons to be learned from the Government’s many failures in procuring PPE during the pandemic. He stated;

“The struggles that patient facing health and social care workers faced when trying to obtain PPE are well known, although seemingly not to the health secretary when he told the BBC that there had been no national shortage. Some of the best accounts are in books by two British doctors, Rachel Clarke and Dominic Pimenta. Indeed, Pimenta stepped away from medicine to create a charity to source PPE for the NHS.

Yet equally shocking were the stories of how the procurement process was operated. In one of the most visible cases, only a fraction of 400, 000 gowns ordered from a Turkish t-shirt manufacturer arrived. When they did arrive, they were late, despite the Royal Air Force being sent to collect them, and they were found to be unusable. Fifty million face masks, purchased through a company specialising in currency trading and offshore property, part of a £252m (€291m; $348m) contract, were also unusable. A Miami jewellery designer, awarded a £250m contract for PPE, was found to have paid £21m to a consultant to broker the deal. A pest control company with net assets of £19 ,000 was given a £108m contract for PPE. A highly critical report by the National Audit Office provides more examples.”

In the wake of a situation that saw medics left to crowdfund PPE (as in the case of Masks For Heroes, which raised over £2M in private funding), it is impossible to see the wastage of vast sums of taxpayer’s money – which totalled hundreds of millions of pounds – as appropriate use; and the public are only now beginning to see how rampant this waste has been due to emerging scandals such as Topwood and Greensill, as part of the reported £2bn handed by the Health Secretary’s department to firms linked with Conservative Party members or donors.

All those working to provide the highest standard of care to patients should be watching with great interest as this situation unfolds, for the inappropriate use of public funding not only affects public health and confidence; but actively undermines the work, safety and wellbeing of the dedicated individuals working on the front lines of the NHS.

As we face the future, carrying the weight of the unprecedented challenges and knock-on effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we prioritise accountability, in order to protect our NHS and ensure there can no longer be dark corners in which corruption can fester.

The famous Catch it, Bin it, Kill it slogan need not only apply to public messaging for good hygiene – it is also applicable to targeting, and putting an end to, misconduct in public office, and the misuse of funds allocated for public health.

Read other news articles