SNP ministers have been accused of "catastrophic failure" after a damning report found that Scotland's stockpile of PPE at the start of the pandemic was "very low", and a surge in prices cost the NHS tens of millions more than normal for the safety gear.
The long-awaited independent report from Audit Scotland, which looked into how the Scottish Government and NHS managed PPE arrangements, reiterated its earlier finding that SNP ministers did not fully implement recommendations from pandemic preparedness exercises.
It found that centrally-held stocks of certain key items were “very low” in April 2020, with just 0.3 days' worth of long-sleeved gowns stored by NHS National Services Scotland (NSS).
And as global demand for the equipment surged and overseas factories closed, PPE prices doubled in early 2020.
Had NSS been able to buy it at the same price as in 2019, it would have spent £37.4 million less on PPE stock in the first five months of the pandemic.
The report went on to say that 78 contracts worth £340 million were awarded to companies providing PPE between March 2020 and June 2021.
But a total of 29 of these contracts, worth £98 million, were awarded to new suppliers with no competition.
Commenting on the findings, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackie Baillie demanded that SNP ministers “learn from their failure and act to ensure that Scotland has sufficient stocks of PPE in the event of a future pandemic and to ensure that the public purse is not hit due to spikes in the cost of PPE”.
“Despite all the warnings and pandemic planning exercises, frontline workers were put in danger by the government’s failings – this must never happen again,” she said.
"The Scottish Government's procurement process was not fit for purpose and it is clear that they handed out big money contracts without the normal due diligence and questions remain as to whether this represents value for the taxpayer.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives demanded the SNP “accept responsibility” for the failings “despite spin that PPE supplies never ran out” and ensure it never happens again rather than “trying to downplay what went wrong”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome this report and the issues it highlights. Audit Scotland acknowledges that following a dramatic global increase in demand for PPE, the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) acted quickly to secure new PPE supplies.”
They added: “Scotland never ran out of PPE. Work undertaken by the Scottish Government and its partner organisations at that time included setting up a whole new Scottish supply chain from scratch, with the creation of hundreds of jobs.
“The Scottish Government agrees with Audit Scotland that we need to learn from this pandemic and bring that learning into planning for future pandemics – and that work is already underway.”