Report alleging 85 million faulty items of protective equipment ‘a national scandal’, says the BMA

The British Medical Association has criticised the Government over reports that millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) were found to be faulty.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has issued safety warnings, notices for disposal and distribution stoppages for some 85 million masks and respirators, according to an investigation by Channel 4 News.

The broadcaster reports that the masks and respirators were stored in the Government’s pandemic stockpile and have been distributed to hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries since March.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul (pictured), chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, said it was a “dereliction of duty” if healthcare workers had been supplied with faulty PPE during the coronavirus crisis.

Channel 4 News reports that last week, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued guidance to the NHS that millions of Cardinal surgical masks distributed by the company Medline – of which more than 67 million were in the stockpile – should be “disposed of”.

The investigation also found that safety warnings were issued about 3M 1863 respirators, when a memo was sent to staff in the South West that certain items were “sub-optimal” and warned workers to check for signs of degradation.

There were 11.5 million of these in the stockpile, most of which expired at the start of the year, according to Channel 4 News.

Meanwhile, the broadcaster found that Cardinal-branded respirators – of which there were 6.8 million in the stockpile – were halted after staff experienced problems with fit testing, although it is unclear how many were distributed before being withdrawn.

“These reports, if true, are nothing short of a national scandal,” Dr Nagpaul said.

“If doctors and health and care workers have been supplied with, and worn, faulty, re-dated masks, this is clearly a dereliction of duty to ensure the safety of NHS staff and patients.

“Wearing substandard PPE places doctors at risk of becoming infected and also spreading the illness to patients.

“We know that doctors and healthcare staff have become infected and died from this virus and therefore nothing short of 100% fit for purpose PPE should have been supplied from the outset.”

The BMA said that in March, NHS England provided reassurance to all trusts that products had “passed stringent tests that demonstrate they are safe”.

Dr Nagpaul added: “Given these explicit assurances, we now need clear answers as to how these masks were distributed and allowed to be used.

“Every single item of faulty PPE should now be withdrawn from stocks and replaced with sufficient equipment that is in-date – not re-dated – and with rigorous quality control measures to ensure these properly protect health and care staff.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The quality of PPE released to the frontline is critically important to us.

“Rigorous checks were made to ensure products were safe before being distributed to the frontline and all products purchased for the stockpile in 2009 met the essential safety requirements required by law.

“As soon as we are alerted to any potential issues we take immediate action to ensure the safety of our health and care staff, and work to resolve those issues as quickly as possible.”

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