MPs say the NHS has failed to account for £3.3bn of Covid stockpiles

The agency set up at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the UK from future viral threats has come under fire from a cross-party group of MPs for its lack of governance and weak financial controls.

NHS Test and Trace stocks, such as test kits and other medical equipment, worth the £3.3 billion transferred to the UK’s Health Security Agency, cannot be properly calculated, according to a report published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.

The findings come as the government faces tit-for-tat over its response to the pandemic, with a public inquiry into the effectiveness of its preparedness and response strategy.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said it was “absolutely astounding” to have created an organization conceived as a bedrock of our collective security with leadership hampered by a lack of formal governance and financial controls so poor that billions of pounds in stock could no longer be accounted for. Proper NHS tests and traceability”.

The report noted a lack of adequate governance from the outset and pointed to the appointment of Dr. Jenny Harries as CEO of the agency, who at the time had limited technical experience in running a complex organisation.

The committee called on the UKHSA to urgently implement strong financial controls, put in place a plan to provide full accounts and build up stocks of equipment and medicines in the event of another health crisis.

“For the government to not make serious preparations for any future pandemic would be absolutely inexcusable,” Hellyer said.

The UKHSA was set up in April 2021 to replace Public Health England, the agency ministers blamed for its muddled response in the first year to the pandemic.

The new organization, originally called the National Institute for Health Protection, was intended to focus on health security and the use of scientific and health evidence to respond to future disease threats.

The department came under fire from the National Audit Office, the independent public spending watchdog, earlier this year for failing to complete an “effective year-end inventory count program” and for “lack of adequate governance, oversight and oversight”.

The Public Accounts Committee also noted a lack of effective oversight of the agency’s cash management operations, including failures to perform bank reconciliations, the process used to check bookkeeping, or to conduct inventory counts of contingency stocks.

The panel also found that, three years into the pandemic, the agency still lacked adequate controls over its stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), and continued to incur prohibitive costs for the storage and disposal of unusable items.

In the past two years, the agency has written off £14.9bn in spending, the report found, including £9.9bn worth of personal protective equipment and £2.6bn worth of Covid-19 medicines, in part because the government overpaid Overpaid for some of the items requested too much.

Harries said the UKHSA “was set up in unprecedented circumstances when dealing with Covid was our top priority, and we inherited significant pre-existing challenges in accounts without full independence of governance”.

“We have already put in place strong governance arrangements in a very complex organization at the earliest opportunity within the controls available to us,” the agency’s chief executive added. “Despite these inherited financial challenges, the UKHSA continues to deliver on its priority – protecting lives.”

A government spokesperson said: “Faced with an unprecedented pandemic, we have had to compete in a red-hot global market for items to protect the public, frontline health and care workers and the NHS.” “We will consider the committee’s recommendations and respond formally in due course.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top