A shipment of 50 million face masks bought for the NHS as part of a £252 million contract will not be given to health workers because they’re the wrong kind.
Campaigners suing the government over the contract with Ayanda Capital estimate the masks would have cost over £150 million.
The government admitted in court papers that the masks may not fit securely enough as they use ear-loop fastenings rather than straps that tie around the back of the head.
Ayanda’s bosses argue they met the criteria ministers gave them, while the government has defended its safety standards process as ‘robust’.
The masks are now sitting in Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) warehouses and it is unclear whether they will be repurposed.
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Ayanda has supplied 150 million masks of another type, which the government says are not affected but will undergo more testing before they can be handed out to doctors and nurses.
Court documents also revealed that the advice to deal with Ayanda came from a businessman who is both a senior board adviser to the company and an adviser to the UK Board of Trade.
Andrew Mills had already partnered his own company, Prospermills, with a large factory in China to produce masks and had a large quantity ready for almost immediate shipment.
But due to delays in setting up the international banking networks needed to make the payments needed, he said DHSC should sign the contract with Ayanda, which already had the capacity.
Mr Mills told the BBC on Thursday his position did not affect how the contract, which was signed on April 29, was awarded.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves, a shadow minister, called for an investigation into the government’s ‘mishandling of PPE’ by the National Audit Office.
She said: ‘The Conservative Government failed in their duty to fully protect those working on the frontline during those crucial early months of this pandemic.
‘It is astounding that ministers allowed the national PPE stockpile to run down and then spent millions with an offshore finance company with no history of providing vital equipment for the NHS.’
One of the campaign groups suing the government accused it of handing public money to companies ‘with no experience in procuring safe PPE for healthcare workers’.
A spokesperson for the government said: ‘Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the front line.
‘Over 2.4 billion items have been delivered and more than 30 billion have been ordered from UK-based manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply, which meets the needs of health and social care staff both now and in the future.
‘There is a robust process in place to ensure orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with the necessary due diligence undertaken on all Government contracts.’
Ayanda Capital describes itself as ‘a family office focused on a broad investment strategy, focusing on ‘currency trading, offshore property, and private equity and trade financing’.
The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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