The 400,000 gowns ordered by the government from Turkey last month are sitting in a warehouse near Heathrow Airport after inspectors discovered they were ‘useless’ and fell short of UK standards, it has emerged.
The shipment was announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on April 18 to much fanfare, with the minster claiming that 84 tonnes of PPE would arrive from Turkey the next day to aid NHS staff in the fight against coronavirus.
However, an RAF plane that flew to collect the gowns was then forced to wait at a Turkish airport for several days after it was discovered the government forgot to check whether the supplier had an export license.
Amid an international row with the government in Ankara, the shipment eventually arrived in the UK on April 22, carrying only enough gowns to last the NHS for a few hours.
But in another farcical turn, Health and Safety inspectors branded the 400,000 gowns useless and they are now sitting abandoned in a warehouse.
Millions of masks bought from factories in China have also been impounded after being found to fall below UK standards – though there are fears some have already been used by NHS staff while treating patients.
400,000 gowns ordered by the UK from Turkey are now sitting in a warehouse after inspectors deemed them useless. Pictured is an RAF C17 plane at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, unloading PPE after arriving from Turkey
The shipment was announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on April 18 to much fanfare
It is unclear if the government will be reimbursed after the materials failed to meet UK standards.
Senior NHS sources suggested problems had been found with the type of material used and the length of the sleeves of the gowns.
Mark Roscrow, the chairman of the Health Care Supplies Association, which represents NHS procurement teams, asked why government officials had failed to carry out proper checks before spending taxpayers’ money.
He told the Telegraph: ‘Something very wrong has happened here.
‘It’s not clear to me why we weren’t able to obtain samples in the usual way, and to see that these gowns weren’t fit for purpose.
‘We are being told that the people in charge know how to secure this vital equipment on our behalf, but the checks and balances clearly haven’t been applied correctly. This equipment is still desperately needed at the front line, especially as hospitals begin to reopen other services which also require high quality PPE.’
According to sources, the delivery of the gowns, dubbed ‘Air Jenrick’, was organised at the last minutes as pressure of PPE shortages grew.
Downing Street reportedly ignored a Department of Health warning not to announce the delivery of the PPE from Turkey in April.
NHS sources have suggested problems had been found with the type of material used and the length of the sleeves of the gowns
Senior officials are thought to have warned No 10 and Mr Jenrick that any public confirmation of the plane-load of PPE for NHS staff battling coronavirus could backfire.
But Mr Jenrick was authorised to announce its imminent arrival on April 18, a decision which sparked major embarrassment when it became clear it would not be ready in time.
The following day, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to admit the equipment would not arrive on time and it eventually landed in the UK three days late.
UK officials had first contacted the Istanbul-based firm behind the shipment, Selegna, two weeks earlier after it had offered to help.
The final order was signed on April 17, prompting Mr Jenrick’s press conference promise.
He said: ‘Today I can report that a very large consignment of PPE is due to arrive in the UK tomorrow from Turkey, which amounts to 84 tonnes of PPE and will include for example, 400,000 gowns – so a very significant additional shipment.’
It is unclear if the government will be reimbursed after the materials failed to meet UK standards. Pictured is another order of PPE being delivered to the UK on April 10
However, the plan took a farcical turn with an RAF plane only dispatched to pick up the items two days later.
The plane then waited at the airport for 24 hours after it was found that an export licence had not been signed.
The Turkish government was then forced to step in, ordering state-owned health company Ushas to dispatch PPE so the plane could return to the UK.
But the first flight only saw around 32,000 taken back, with two larger RAF planes travelling to Istanbul later that week to pick up the rest of the gowns that were supplied by Selegna.
However, when UK officials inspected the Selegna-made gowns, they found several faults that made them too dangerous for use by NHS staff.
Last month, a spokesman for Selegna revealed the company had been founded by the owner’s sister just four months before the PPE controversy.
It originally produced shirts and tracksuits and only switch to the production of PPE as coronavirus spread around the world.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring PPE, leading to shortages around the world, not just the UK.
‘We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically, and brought together the NHS, industry and the armed forces to create a comprehensive PPE distribution network to deliver critical supplies to the frontline.
‘All deliveries of PPE are checked to ensure the equipment meets the safety and quality standards our frontline staff need. If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes, it is not distributed to the front line.’
Also in April, the government demanded its money back for millions of faulty antibody tests supplied by China.
The Department of Health admitted none of the 3.5million finger-prick tests ordered from mainly Chinese manufacturers in March passed accuracy checks.
It comes as a number of European governments have already rejected Chinese-made equipment designed to combat coronavirus.
The Dutch health ministry recalled 600,000 face masks at the end of March because they did not fit and the filters were defective.