UK missed three chances to join EU scheme to bulk buy PPE as NHS hit by shortages
Britain missed out on three chances to be part of an EU scheme to bulk-buy masks, gowns and gloves – with shortages of PPE on the NHS frontline now being revealed.
The Guardian reports that the UK has also been absent from key talks about future purchases, choosing to make its own arrangements, despite a number of invites from the EU to be involved.
European doctors and nurses are preparing to receive the first of €1.5bn (£1.3bn) worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) within days through a joint procurement scheme involving 25 countries and eight companies.
Medical equipment, including masks, overalls and goggles, is now in excess of the number requested, a spokesman for the European Commission said.
The EU is separately establishing stockpiles within member states, with the first being set up in Romania.
It comes amid growing anger that medics on the coronavirus frontline in Britain have been left short of vital PPE equipment including gowns, which are said to be running out.
On Monday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, acknowledged PPE shortages – rather than distribution issues only – for the first time.
Mr Raab, who is deputising for the prime minister as Boris Johnson recovers from Covid-19, told the daily Downing Street briefing that cost was not an issue but admitted to problems with PPE supply due to “a competitive market out there”.
The UK government has previously said it was unable to join the EU’s procurement schemes as it had not received an email of invitation.
As a result, the government missed out on mass procurement of medical ventilators, and has called on UK manufacturers to build tens of thousands more.
But it has also not been involved in two rounds of bulk purchasing of PPE, which were launched by the EU on 28 February and 17 March.
It blamed emails from the EU being sent to an out of date email address.
Britain is still following EU guidelines until December 31 while a deal on Britain's post Brexit future is thrashed out.