The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) finally published their annual report and accounts for 2021-22 at the end of January – but were rapped over the knuckles for their content.
Gareth Davies, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and head of the National Audit Office (NAO), issued a “qualified audit opinion” on the accounts, not least because of the handling of the affairs of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) which was established as a DHSC agency in April 2021 and became fully operational from October 2021.
The UKSHA was the body set up to replace Public Health England, and now responsible for England-wide public health protection and infectious disease capability. Its Chief Executive is Dame Jenny Harries. From the outset it was “heavily reliant on temporary staff, including in key senior roles, and experienced high levels of staff turnover.”
However there was also a lack of clear governance, oversight and control, with no Board or Audit and Risk Assurance Committee in place. Indeed the Advisory Board and Audit and Risk Committee did not meet formally until last summer, and in the view of the C&AG “This lack of formal governance arrangements exposed UKHSA to a high level of risk, with no clear oversight structure in place for its first six months of operation.”
Davies criticises the DHSC for not sufficiently supporting or overseeing UKHSA to establish its administrative functions.
But the biggest concerns are once again over the colossal costs and lack of adequate information over the stockpile of unused and unusable PPE and other goods related to the pandemic.
The C&AG’s report notes:
“DHSC did not complete an effective programme of year-end stock counts to verify the quantity and quality of items including PPE and lateral flow tests, as it was unable to access 5 billion items (which cost £2.9bn) that were stored in containers, and did not have adequate processes in place for accessible stock held in warehouses.”
As ministers endlessly repeat their assertion that a decent pay rise for NHS staff is not affordable, the accounts show DHSC has wasted almost £15 billion over two years on PPE and other pandemic spending:
“DHSC estimates that there has been a £6bn reduction in the value of items procured in response to the pandemic. This comprises:
- £2.5bn write-down on items costing £11.2bn that DHSC has already purchased, but no longer expects to use, or for which the market price is now lower than the price paid. (This includes £1.5bn of PPE, £5.8bn of Test and Trace consumables such as lateral flow testing kits and PCR tests, £2.7bn of COVID-19 vaccines, and £1.2bn of COVID medicines.)
- £3.5bn write-down on PPE, vaccines and medication which DHSC has committed to purchase, but no longer expects to use.
“Taken together with the £8.9bn written-down in its 2020-21 accounts, over the last two financial years, DHSC has now reported £14.9bn of write-down costs related to PPE and other items.”
Davies calls on the DHSC to set up adequate controls over its remaining COVID-19 inventory, which “should include processes to physically verify the amount and condition of the items held in containers and warehouses.”
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