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tv   Covid Contracts  BBC News  December 22, 2021 9:30am-10:01am GMT

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gift for everyone. cheers. merry christmas. crowds have gathered at stonehenge to watch the sunrise after the winter solstice. traditionally observed by druids and pagans, they were joined by many others to celebrate the end of the longest night of the year. it marks the point when the north pole has its maximum tilt away from the sun. and from now on, of course, the days start to get longer. hurray for that! now it's time for a look at the weather with carol. well, it is a cold start to the day. well, it is a cold start to the day. we have had the coldest night of this winter so far.
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in braemar, minus 10.2 celsius. in the west, we have watched rain gathering, moving across northern england and coming out of northern ireland as we go through the rest of the day. you can see extending through wales and into scotland. driest conditions in the far south east, but here, too, the cloud will build. it will be mailed across the west of the country today, but pulling in a mild breeze, coming out from the south. through the evening and overnight, we hang onto that breeze in the west. a rain band continuing to migrate northwards and heath was producing transient snow across northern scotland with the risk of ice here. another cold night, away from the west. tomorrow, rain continues to come in from the west pushing northwards and eastwards. behind it, it will brighten up a little bit, but tomorrow, it is the temperatures we will be talking about, especially across northern ireland, england and wales, where it will be very mild.
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hello, this is bbc news. the headlines: opening up christmas for thousands — new government advice says people with covid can stop self—isolating up to three days early in england if they're testing negative. but widespread disruption to rail and other public services are blamed on covid staff sickness and self—isolation. ministers in wales and northern ireland meet today to consider a range of new covid measures. new restrictions were announced for scotland yesterday. in other news — nearly 400 people are now thought to have died, with hundreds of thousands more displaced, in the philippines after last week's typhoon. now on bbc news... at a key point in the pandemic, the government signed a £107 million deal to buy ppe from a northern ireland sweet company.
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lyndsey telford investigates what happened next. it might not look like much, but last year, this box was worth an awful lot of money. during the global scramble for ppe in the early stages of the pandemic, the cost of protective gear shot up astronomically. this box was part of a ppe deal worth over £100 million. this involved a northern irish sweet company. people were dying. it was almost, just buy as much as you can. it may not be worth its weight in gold any more but, today, this box gives us a window into the pandemonium that surrounded ppe purchasing last year. because when it arrived in the uk, at such great expense, health officials could not even agree what these items were or how they could be used in hospitals.
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government thought it was buying a rolls—royce, but it was getting a ford fiesta. perhaps that's why a box from the very same shipment, a box that cost the taxpayer £1,000, ended up being flogged less than one year later for just £5. you're probably sick about hearing about "the new normal". that's the phrase we use when we talk about life in the pandemic. after lockdowns, and with the help of the vaccine, covid has become something that we try to live with, minimising the risk it poses as best we can. and ppe, like this mask, is a big part of that.
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masks have become so commonplace that it's easy to forget how the shortage of ppe early in the pandemic caused panic. personal protective equipment for health and care workers is in great demand around the world. the government has been under fire over shortages of ppe. parts of the nhs are still experiencing problems . getting hold of ppe. the marketjust went mad. peter smith is an expert in procurement and he watched on as sourcing ppe became the focus. suddenly, we saw demand going up, doubling, trebling, five or ten fold, and if you suddenly increase demand tenfold, a couple of things happen. first of all, there will be shortages because of those prices that will go up. suddenly, there is not enough ppe and it was clearly a very challenging
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and difficult environment. the shortage had stark consequences on the front line as we reported last year. when the levels of ppe were running low in some surgeries and some colleagues were working without available masks... aprons made from bin bags, plastic bags on heads. - what was needed most urgently of all were gowns. the government did have some ppe items, but it had been preparing for the wrong kind of pandemic. it had stockpiled aprons — useful for a flu outbreak, but what health care workers needed to battle covid were gowns. although they look similar, there are key differences. aprons are worn as a sacrificial layer over other ppe and are more open at the back. gowns are closer fitting and are intended to cover more of the body. and despite a warning from a scientific advisory group injune, 2019, the government had no gowns
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whatsoever in its stockpile. so acute was the ppe shortage that the government issued a call to arms. if you've got production facilities and you can meet our published technical specifications, we want to hear from you. 16,000 potential suppliers offered to step up, and this company in bradford was one of them. we were hearing that we were at war against a virus and when it's a war effort, as a company, you step up to do whatever it is you can and that would be our war effort. companies that made window blinds were now making face shields. gin distilleries were making hand sanitiser. they couldn'tjust use the current suppliers,
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they didn't have time to run that full, competitive, open processl and people were dying - and it was almost, i believe, a situation, just buyj as much as you can. even those with no scope to manufacture themselves, were offering to use their contacts to find people who could. and that's when northern ireland's clandeboye agencies ltd stepped up. it's not the kind of business you'd expect to be suppling ppe to the nhs. why? because it's a confectionery company. its products include yogurt—coated peanuts, gummy sweets and slushy machines. more pick n�* mix than ppe. why would a small sweet company be considered as a supplier of pp? these are unprecedented times and the authorities had to move fast. they said they could help.
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the company told the government it was the uk distributor for a cambodian manufacturer of ppe. most importantly, it was offering to provide the nhs with one of its most sought—after items — gowns. in wales, the situation was particularly dire. some hospitals have adequate quantities of ppe, but others are down to just a few days' worth of supplies. clandeboye agencies offered to supply some. within just a week of making contact, welsh officials had agreed an £8a0,000 contract with the sweet company. you will recall that last week, i indicated that fluid—resistant gowns were a particular worry area for us, where we had less than a full week's supply left. i can confirm we are expecting
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a flight to land at cardiff airport this afternoon, carrying 200,000 fluid—resistant gowns. the sweet company had ridden to the rescue. its gowns were rolled out to hospitals across wales — with some being rushed to intensive—care units for immediate use. in england, a shortage of gowns had become so critical that northern ireland sent 250,000 of its own to protect front—line workers. officials at the department of health and social care, or the dhsc, in whitehall, were working flat out to plug the ppe gap — and so, they too looked to the sweet company. the very next day, after the arrival of the gowns in wales, the department of health and social care agreed its own contract with clandeboye agencies. but this was a much larger and more valuable arrangement than the welsh one — millions of gowns for millions of pounds.
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over the next few weeks, the dhsc inflated the order — £14 million, £19 million, then £93 million, finally finishing with quite a deal for a small confectionery company, contracts worth £107.5 million. these are eye—watering sums. but it's important to remember how unprecedented the circumstances were. at this point in the pandemic, gowns were still desperately needed and still in short supply. so the government had to move at breakneck speed to secure them. there was no time to spare. and then, everything stopped. after the rush and speedy delivery, the gowns were held in nhs storage. it was here at this
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warehouse in daventry near northampton that those gowns from clandeboye agencies ended up. you would expect them to have been shipped in and then straight out the door again — because this was an emergency, and these gowns were so urgently needed. but they just sat here. month after month after month. this warehouse was at the heart of the government's pandemic response. while in wales, the gowns were immediately sent to hospitals, in england, ppe bought from a new supplier was immediately quarantined here, so samples from each batch could be tested to ensure quality and safety. it was after the gowns came here that someone first realised that there may be a problem with the gowns. and documents we've obtained from the uk's ppe regulator, the health and safety executive, tell the story.
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what these files show is that two months after the first delivery arrived from cambodia, the hse raised concerns. it flagged the fact that while the consignments were labelled as "fluid—repellent gowns", the items themselves didn't meet the requirements to be used as such. according to the hse, these were not gowns, these were long—sleeved aprons. what followed was a summer of uncertainty. in the documents we've obtained, the department of health and social care spent weeks going back and forth with the hse, trying to figure out what they should tell the nhs about the clandeboye agencies items, whether they should just give them to dentists and not hospitals, if they could be used for single procedures, or even if they could be called ppe. as this went on, the discussion went wider.
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it turns out there were more of these items — known as a thumb—loop gown or thumb—loop apron — supplied by other companies. we showed one to ppe sales director rizwana hussain. well, i can tell from looking at this product, i've seen this product. it's a very common product and, you know, it's commonly referred to as a gown, but that's like a lay definition of it. if you were talking about medical definition of it, you wouldn't be able to call this a gown because it doesn't match the standards and the requirements. at one point, the items were earmarked for scotland, but they were withdrawn by dhsc before they were shipped. months later, government guidance on ppe showed that items like those purchased from clandeboye agencies and others were suitable for use only as disposable aprons. it was now clear that the items
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the government had paid over £100 million for weren't the actual gowns the nhs had needed after all. government thought it was buying, arm, a rolls royce, erm, but it was getting a ford fiesta. jolyon maugham, a london—based lawyer and founder of a legal campaign group, has taken the government to court over this and other covid contracts. we can't know whether civil servants, in a tearing hurry, erm, ordered the wrong thing. what we can know is that the thing supplied for £108 million of public money was not a thing that was the right thing for the covid pandemic. if you don't get the specification right, then the rest of the procurement process doesn't, doesn't matter. you've wasted,
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you've wasted the money. and it's hard to understand how something as basic as that could happen. it's not as if even the specification for a gown or an apron is incredibly complicated. i mean, there's probably more to it than people might think, but it's not like you're buying a nuclear submarine. the department of health in london said proper due diligence is carried out on all government contracts and it takes the checks extremely seriously. it said it had worked tirelessly to source life—saving ppe to protect front line staff. as far as clandeboye agencies is concerned, it fulfilled its contracts. it said it was contracted to supply pe (or polyethylene) gowns and this is what was supplied. the company also said it had "extensive experience of sourcing goods abroad" and found a source of supply for items that
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were "urgently needed". but what is a gown to one person isn't a gown to another. when the items were inspected, they were found not to meet the requirements for use as a fluid—resistant gown in the nhs. labour's angela rayner has been critical of the government's procurement practices in general. we informed her of ourfindings. well, it's a devastating indictment of what the government were up to and, unfortunately, it's notjust a one—off occurrence, we�*ve seen that billions of pounds have been wasted on contracts that were not fulfilled and, also, that the ppe couldn't be used. as well as criticising what she sees as waste, angela raynor has attacked the government for setting up a system that prioritised some companies over others —
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the so—called vip channel. according to a cabinet office report, companies could get in the fast lane if they were referred by a reliable source — like a government minister, a senior official, or an mp. angela rayner says the system was a bad one because it was based on who referred a company, rather than its track record. it's disgusting that at a time of a global pandemic when we should have been scrutinising more, and the national audit office have said we should be scrutinising what contracts we get, the government were actually creating a vip fast—track lane. many companies who had huge amounts of experience who could have delivered on those contracts didn't even get a look in. rizwana hussain�*s company wasn't referred and didn't win any contracts. she says she felt frozen out.
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finding out that the government had a vip lane and the people who knew nothing about this industry were getting given ludicrous sized contracts was very disappointing for us. it's just not a level playing field then, is it? it's just not fair. the dhsc in england has said clandeboye agencies was not in the formal high—priority lane, or hpl. but it concedes the company was prioritised because of how many gowns it was offering. and there's evidence that its offer had some vip names linked to it. the draft cabinet office report says clandeboye was supported by an nhs director in wales. and its local mp, dup south antrim representative paul girvan, was copied in to emails between clandeboye and government officials. mr girvan told us the company
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approached him and he directed it to the civil service. that seems to be the limit of his involvement, as he said he did not endorse its application and did not even know it had secured a contract. clandeboye agencies told us it did not have a prior relationship with paul girvan and did not rely on political connections to obtain the contracts. in spite of the ongoing court proceedings about these aprons, what ultimately became of them is still a mystery. we don't have anything more than is in the public domain. so we've asked government an awful lot of questions about where the gowns ended up. and government has basically refused to tell us. and that's pretty alarming. but the short answer is,
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no, we still don't know. we know there was confusion about how the aprons the government ended up with could be used. so much so that they sat in a warehouse for months, not being used as anything. but after mid—august, we have no idea what became of those very expensive aprons. we use the nhs id code to find this site — an internal nhs platform run on ebay. we find some of these clandeboye agencies items. the boxes actually still have the contract information on the side. and we can see that they're selling fast, and to registered nhs users, but not to hospitals. these are going to less high—risk environments, like care homes and rehabilitation facilities. and then, a new lead.
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we have been looking for this ppe for months now. ever since we found out that there was some sort of issue with it, we have been trying to find out what may have happened to it, where it may have ended up. and we've had a bit of breakthrough. our search brings us here — to an auction house in stockport. we arrive late in the evening. the gates are locked and there's no—one to speak to. we have no idea how any of the clandeboye agencies' shipment ended up here. what we do know is that one auction—goer got a real bargain. because they managed to buy a box of kit that cost the taxpayer £1,000 forjust a fiver. i mean, it's pretty sickening, isn't it? that £1,000, which will be just one example of many other thousands of pounds, millions, hundreds of millions, probably billions of pounds,
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is money that your viewers would have worked very hard to earn and paid away to the government in taxes, and it's been wasted. although we've found the seller, the box itself is long gone, sold in march to someone with an eye for a bargain. but we're getting closer. a few days later, a chance find online. a different box of clandeboye agencies' gowns, complete with the same contract information and product code. this is it. this is one of the actual boxes the government paid £1,000 for. we paid less than a tenth of that — just under £100. public money appears to have been wasted because of confusion over what to order, and the health service didn't get the actual ppe it most needed.
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clandeboye agencies insist it delivered what was ordered and that no concerns have been raised about the gowns it supplied. the company wouldn't tell us how much profit it made on the contracts. this was a national emergency — a time when the world was scrambling to source ppe. it was for government and those with accountability to make sure they were spending public money wisely and, crucially, ordering the right stuff. the health and safety executive wouldn't respond to our specific questions about the items provided by clandeboye agencies. but it did tell us that... "it was as a result of our checks that we caught a lot of ppe that wasn't safe and wouldn't have protected people." it says the pandemic necessitated a degree of pragmatism, "but our clear principle throughout was that
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protective equipment actually protects people." but the bottom line is that the government paid millions and millions of pounds to a sweet company for ppe that it couldn't use as intended. in this key phase of the pandemic, during the first wave, the vital business of securing the ppe needed for the nhs was marked by confusion and delay. these contracts, and these aprons, clearly raise concerns for the public purse. but in wales, the concerns could be even more serious. remember that initial contract between clandeboye agencies and nhs wales, which saw the company provide 200,000 gowns when wales was almost out of ppe? those were the same as the items delivered to the dhsc. the items which the hse said should
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not be used as fluid—repellent gowns by health care workers on the front line. well, they were distributed to health boards and trusts across wales where, according to our f0|s, they were used as fluid—repellent gowns, and in intensive care units by health care workers treating patients with covid. nhs wales said... but angela rayner remains concerned. it's devastating for health care workers on the front line. they have got us through the most difficult times of the pandemic, put their own lives at risk. and, you know, i was a care worker myself and i know how devastated you feel if you even went in with a cough and cold and you thought that you gave it to someone.
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so i know care workers were very diligent in wanting to keep people safe. not only that, they now had dodgy ppe that left workers without the protective equipment that they deserved and needed which, again, could have put lives at risk. well, that's pretty alarming, isn't it? i mean, we wear ppe because we want it to protect us from getting covid. of course, if you're a doctor or a nurse on the front line, you're at particular risk if you're dealing with covid patients. and what you're telling me suggests to me that they weren't getting proper ppe. they weren't getting stuff that was, erm, able to protect them from covid. they thought they were, but they weren't. last year, we were told to stay at home to protect the nhs and front—line workers, but government had its part to play. our investigation raises serious questions about how it performed in that frenzied rush to provide ppe. questions about how public money was spent, and about the risk to those who were putting their
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lives on the line. good morning, a cold start to the day, many of us started on a frosty know and it was minus 10.2 celsius in braemar, making it the coldest night of this winter so far. we did stop with some sunshine, but the clouds continuing to build, the rain pushing across northern ireland, into scotland, western parts of england and wales. the dries conditions will be in the south east, but after a bright start, the cloud is building. chilly day if you are stepping outside, but towards the west where we have the rain coming in, temperatures are that little bit higher. pulling in noticeable southerly breeze here so
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the temperatures are going to be that bit milder notjust by day, but also by night and through this evening and overnight, that band of rain pushes northwards and eastwards. it could follow snow in northern scotland for a time and there is a risk of ice on untreated surfaces here as well. a cold night in prospect, but still mild out towards the west. tomorrow, a new band of rain comes in, moving steadily north eastwards. the cloudy and murky start to the day. but as it pushes northwards, behind it, it will brighten up a little bit will stop at one thing you will notice is it will be mild for the time of year across northern ireland, england and.
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this is bbc news — these are the latest headlines in the uk and around the world. opening up christmas for thousands — new government advice says people with covid can stop self—isolating up to three days early in england if they're testing negative but widespread disruption to rail and other public services are blamed on covid staff sickness and self—isolation. ministers in wales and northern ireland meet today to consider a range of new covid measures — new restrictions were announced for scotland yesterday. israel plans to become the first country to roll out a fourth dose of covid vaccine as it prepares to deal with the omicron variant. at least 27 people are now to have dead in malaysia's worst flooding in decades.

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