Fifty million masks that were meant to be used by the NHS now cannot be worn by staff because of safety issues, the government has admitted.
The FFP2 masks ordered by the government have ear loops instead of head loops, meaning there is a risk they would not be secure enough.
The masks were supplied by Ayanda Capital, which was awarded a £252m contract to supply personal protective equipment (PPE). The government is now being sued by EveryDoctor and Good Law Project over its decision to award the private family fund the contract.
It was also revealed in a legal document, sent to EveryDoctor and Good Law Project by the government, that the deal was arranged by Andrew Mills, an adviser to the Board of Trade in the Department for International Trade, on behalf of Tim Horlick, CEO of Ayanda Capital.
Mr Horlick said Mr Mills was a business associate and he was asked to help the firm “given his relationship with the Department for International Trade and his experience in international business and sales”.
Mr Mills previously held senior leadership positions in businesses including Samsung, IBM, HP and KPMG, said the document.
The government insisted that “appropriate due diligence” was undertaken on Ayanda Capital and the Chinese factories it used to manufacture the PPE, and “the company’s track record indicated it would be capable of fulfilling a large order of medical masks”.
Jolyon Maugham, director of Good Law Project, said the organisation wrote to the government regarding three contracts, each worth over £100m, awarded to a pest control company, a confectioner and Ayanda Capital.
“Each of those contracts has revealed a real cause for alarm – including, on Ayanda, that around £150m was spent on unusable masks. What other failures remain undiscovered?” she said.
Julia Patterson, founder of EveryDoctor, added: “It is horrifying that during the worst criss in the NHS’s history, the government entrusted large sums of public money in the hands of companies with no experience in producing safe PPE for healthcare workers.
“I run a network of 25,000 UK doctors. Many were fearful for their lives between March and June … We cannot allow bad decision-making to jeopardise the lives of healthcare workers and the public.
“The government must be answerable to their decisions regarding these PPE contracts.”
The government said in a statement: “Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline.
“Over 2.3 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.”