With a responsibility to capture and share its experiences during 2020, Arco published a Position Paper, titled Personal Protective Equipment and the Government’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Arco’s report offers insight into its own experiences dealing with Government bodies and other agencies as part of the PPE supply chain. It proposes a 10-point set of recommendations to prevent a repeat of the high-profile issues that were seen during the first wave of the crisis and to ensure the country is better protected in any future pandemic.

The recommendations in the Public Accounts Committee Report support Arco's own recommendations. Most critical of these are:

  • The inadequacy of the COVID-19 pandemic PPE stockpile and the need to improve managing and distribution of fully compliant stock
  • The failures of the procurement portal at sifting credible and genuine offers of PPE from reputable suppliers, from those offered by dubious sources and the need to improve this for future emergencies and pandemics.
  • The need for a plan to show how the Government will use the PPE that has been procured during the pandemic, stock allocation and the handling of unused stock
  • And finally, a recommendation that the Government sets out plans to incentivise NHS Supply Chain and trusts to buy PPE manufactured in the UK.

The report also recognises that hundreds of millions of pounds has been wasted on poor quality PPE that cannot be used for the intended purpose and recommends analysis and reporting of the extent of this failing. Arco would urge that this is taken further to ensure this cannot happen again and recommends that the Government should consult on whether PPE suppliers should be formally registered to be allowed to supply Category II and III products. Registration would ensure that a supplier is capable of providing compliant product, while market surveillance by an empowered OPSS would ensure suppliers live up to these commitments.

Emma Hardy MP cited Arco’s Position Paper in a Westminster Hall debate on the National Audit Office (NAO) report into procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing details of the report and its recommendations. Following the session, Emma Hardy sent a letter to the Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary, Julia Lopez MP, urging the Government to give the Arco report and its findings proper consideration.

In response, Julia Lopez wrote: “We very much welcome the feedback that Arco has provided. My officials have sent a comprehensive response to the letter from Arco and will be following up with a meeting to follow up directly with Arco to ensure that their thoughts have been taken onboard. I would like to take the opportunity to reassure you of the great strides we have made to take us to this point, including already undertaking a number of the recommendations that Arco have proposed in their paper”.

Thomas Martin, Chairman of Arco (pictured) said: “‘From the outset, we were both disappointed with the inadequacies of the procurement system and deeply concerned by some of the unnecessary mistakes made across the UK through a lack of experience of procuring the PPE needed. This is something the government has acknowledged, and has been reflected in media coverage, through the National Audit Report, and now through the findings and recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee.

“We are pleased that many of the conclusions made by the Public Accounts Committee support those Arco reached when we commissioned our position paper last summer, to look at the lessons that need to be learned from the pandemic.

“As an established safety business that has provided critical support in the international SARS, Swine Flu and Ebola crises, we feel it’s our duty to report on our experiences and to support the government in continuing to help deal with the pandemic by sharing our expertise. We are grateful for the invitation we have received from the Minister to build on the dialogue with the Department of Health and Social Care, and look forward to contributing our resources to ensure that the Committee’s recommendations are acted upon so the nation can be better prepared for future emergencies. The UK leads the world in health and safety and we are committed to ensuring that the leading role we play in keeping people safe is not compromised.”