This site is intended for healthcare professionals only

PPE stockpiles ‘proved inadequate’ for COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: | Published:

The government initially had little PPE The government initially had little PPE

The government was initially reliant on inadequate stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

Demand for PPE soared in England from March 2020, when NHS and care workers, and key workers in some other industries, started to require protection from the virus. The Government’s stockpiles of PPE were intended for an influenza pandemic and did not hold all the equipment that proved to be required during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as gowns. The Government attempted to use its stockpiles to meet demand but there were difficulties distributing PPE and a lack of information on how much stock each NHS trust needed.

Read more: New COVID-19 vaccine shows 95% protection

‘This report contains tough lessons very relevant to the here and now. Earlier this year nursing staff were put in the terrifying position of having to work in potentially life-threatening environments with inadequate protection,’ said Mike Adams, England director at the Royal College of Nursing.

‘We heard stories of masks, when available, being flimsy, poorly fitting or years out of date and of staff having to share disposable visors. The RCN fought hard to force the government to address this situation and lessons must be learnt so that nursing staff never face horrendous circumstances like that again.’

Some PPE failed to meet required standards. Across two contracts, orders totalling £214 million were made for 75 million respirator face masks which the NHS will not use for the original purpose (one of the suppliers has since agreed to vary the contract and replace most of the order with a different type of face mask). Tens of millions of respirator masks ordered from other suppliers and some other types of PPE are also likely to be unusable for the original purpose.

Read more: Rapid COVID-19 tests to be rolled out across England

‘As PPE stockpiles were inadequate for the pandemic, government needed to take urgent action to boost supplies. Once it recognised the gravity of the situation it worked hard to source PPE, but most of these orders were not received in time for the first wave of the pandemic and many front-line workers reported shortages of PPE during that time. The price of PPE increased dramatically, and that alone has cost the taxpayer around £10 billion,’ said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.

‘There are important lessons for government to learn as it continues to tackle the pandemic. This includes fully understanding not just the requirements of the NHS, but also social care providers so that they can be better supported in future.’

What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your views to @IndyNurseMag

This material is protected by MA Healthcare Ltd copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


This is truly horrific . Family members of Nhs staff whom have died owing to covid ashould be allowed to sue the government for this negligence with legal fees paid for them . Just shameful to read this conclusion. You trust that when an Nhs contract is being made samples of the products are provided and incremental payments are released according to the quality , quantity and speed of delivery and there is a standardised pre requisite for the materials used . I really hope this mess is not allowed to contine as even with vaccination there will still be covid as many people are too afraid to have the vaccine . What a mess
Posted by: ,

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code

Read a free issue from Practice Nursing

Register to read a free issue from our sister publication, Practice Nursing.

Including articles on asthma, diabetes and more. Read your copy.


Sign up to the newsletter


Independent Nurse is the professional resource for primary care and community nurses, providing clinical articles for practice nurses and prescribers.


Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up to date with the latest nursing news.

Stay Connected

Stay social with Independent Nurse by following us on Twitter, liking us on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn.


Need access to some of our older articles? You can view our archive, or alternatively contact us.

Contact Us

MA Healthcare Ltd.
St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road
London, SE24 0PB

Tel: +44 (0)20 7738 5454
Registered in England and Wales No. 01878373

Meet the team


Find out how to contribute to Independent Nurse here.