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Public Audit Committee

The 2020/21 audit of NHS National Services Scotland: Response to the Covid19 pandemic

Letter from the Convener to the Convener of Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, 15 December 2021

Dear Gillian,

The 2020/21 audit of NHS National Services Scotland: Response to the Covid-19 pandemic

The Public Audit Committee recently considered the Auditor General for Scotland’s (AGS) section 22 report on The 2020/21 audit of NHS National Services Scotland: Response to the Covid-19 pandemic (the report) which was published on 12 October 2021. To inform the Committee’s scrutiny of the report, Members also considered Audit Scotland’s Briefing on personal protective equipment (the briefing), published in June 2021.

The Committee initially took evidence on the report and briefing from the AGS at its meeting on 4 November 2021. On 2 December 2021, the Committee took evidence from NHS National Services Scotland (NHS NSS) and the Scottish Government.
Following the evidence session on 2 December, the Committee agreed to close its scrutiny of the report and briefing. In doing so however, the Committee agreed to write to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee to draw its attention to areas raised during our consideration of the report and briefing which may be of interest to your Committee, should future work be undertaken on personal protective equipment (PPE). I outline these areas below. 
Emergency procurement procedures

The AGS’s report highlighted that—

“NHS NSS awarded 78 contracts worth £340 million to companies providing PPE between March 2020 and June 2021. Of the contracts awarded, 29 with a total value of £98 million, were awarded to new suppliers with no competition. This was in accordance with the emergency procurement procedures in place”.

While it was reported that there were no issues with the quality of goods procured or the companies contracted, two contracts were identified where total spend was higher than the original contract value. This included an overspend of £0.986 million in an approved contract valued at £0.147 million with the second contract overspend of £3.149 million on an approved contract of £12.049 million.

The report stated that NHS NSS has committed to ensuring retrospective contract approval and monitoring through its established governance group. During our evidence session on 2 December, NHS NSS confirmed that it has fully reinstated the standard processes for regulated procurement and contract approval.

The Committee recognises that NHS NSS was operating under extreme pressure at the beginning of the pandemic and that there was a need to work at pace to procure PPE. While it is encouraging that NHS NSS has returned to standard processes for procuring PPE, the Committee considers it important to keep this under active scrutiny and review.

Supply chain implications

A further area the Committee explored was the Scottish supply chain for PPE. As the briefing outlines, before the pandemic no PPE was made in Scotland. However, by April 2021, 88 per cent of all PPE (excluding gloves) was manufactured in Scotland. The briefing paper and report also recognise that the creation of a Scottish supply chain has been a positive development which has led to increased jobs and the security of supply.

During our meeting on 2 December, the Committee noted that while the creation of the Scottish supply chain is to be commended, the current production lines are unlikely to continue at the same pace forever. As such, we asked NHS NSS whether there was scope for companies to repurpose their production lines once they return to “normal” levels of production in the future to protect the jobs that have been created, as well as sustain the current levels of production.

NHS NSS responded by saying they were hopeful that this could be achieved, particularly where products are used by other industries, such as the chemical industries and laboratories.

The Committee welcomes the significant achievement of the Scottish Government, NHS NSS and Scottish Enterprise to create the Scottish supply chain for PPE. It is recognised however, that the current level of production is unlikely to be required in the future. The Committee therefore encourages your Committee to keep a watching brief on the sustainability of the Scottish supply chain, if there is scope in your work programme to do so.

The environmental impact of PPE

The AGS’s briefing paper recommended that when developing a future approach to PPE supply and demand, the Scottish Government and NHS NSS should consider how to support suppliers to develop more environmentally sustainable PPE. At our meeting on 2 December, the Committee asked what work was progressing in this regard.

In response, NHS NSS explained that NHS Tayside has initiated a competition inviting companies to propose innovative ideas and solutions for sustainable and reusable PPE. The competition will run over the next few months with the results of this approach expected to be published in early Spring.

The Committee considers the development of sustainable PPE to be of critical importance in reducing the environmental impact caused by these products. We encourage your Committee to monitor the outcome of the competition being run by NHS Tayside, and how this will inform the future approach to the provision of PPE in Scotland.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Leonard MSP

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