Buying “unsuitable” personal protective equipment (PPE) in England this year has cost the taxpayer about £10bn, the spending watchdog has said.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that between February and July 2020, nearly £12.5bn was spent on 32bn items of PPE.

When comparing the same period last year, only 1.3bn items were purchasing, costing a fraction at £28.9m.

The lack of sufficient PPE before the pandemic led to hugely higher prices being paid.

The report said: “The department had to pay such high prices because it was in the position of needing to buy huge volumes of PPE very quickly.”

The total cost of all 32bn items at 2019 prices would have been £2.5bn, £10bn less than the government paid.

Instead, the final figure was much higher and hundreds of millions were also spent on “unsuitable” items that could not be used, the NAO said.

The watchdog said that some pieces of equipment had “passed its expiry date or did not meet current safety standard”.

Speaking to the BBC, NAO head Gareth Davies said: “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… the price of PPE increased dramatically, and that alone has cost the taxpayer around £10bn.”

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) “only 0.49% of all the purchased PPE tested to date” had not been fit for staff to use.

A DHSC official said: “As the NAO report recognises, during this unprecedented pandemic all the NHS providers audited ‘were always able to get what they needed in time’ thanks to the Herculean effort of government, NHS, armed forces, civil servants and industry.”

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