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Safety concerns for 50 million facemasks.


Fifty million facemasks bought by the government in April will not be used in the NHS because of safety concerns.

The government says the masks, which use ear-loops rather than head loops, may not fit tightly enough.

Labour MP Rachel Reeves called for a National Audit Office investigation into the government's "mishandling of PPE procurement."

Early in the pandemic, the NHS suffered severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the government said it had to find new suppliers quickly to meet demand and compete with rising global competition.

On 29 April the Department of Health and Social Care signed the £252m contract with Ayanda Capital Limited to supply two types of facemasks.

The most expensive part of the order comprised 50 million FFP2 respirator masks, designed to protect healthcare workers from inhaling harmful particles, but the government now says these will now not be used in the NHS because of a concern about whether they would fit adequately.

These types of facemask need to fit tightly to create a seal between the mask and the wearer's face and anyone who wears them for work is required to undergo a face fit test.

Chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation, Alan Murray, said: "The face fit is either a pass or a fail and there are more fails on products with ear loops than there are on products with head harnesses which means that it wouldn't necessarily provide the required protection."

It is not clear what will happen to the 50 million masks now but Ayanda Capital also supplied 150 million Type IIR masks, which are unaffected by the safety assessment.

Most have now been delivered but they have not yet been released for use in the NHS and await further testing.

The information was disclosed in a legal response to the Good Law Project, which is seeking a legal challenge to the government concerning its awarding of three PPE contracts, including Ayanda Capital's.

The campaign group argues the government's awarding of contracts directly to companies during the pandemic, rather than opening them to competition, may have been unlawful.

Good Law Project's director, Jolyon Maugham, said: "It's taken this extraordinary sum of public funds and wasted it on PPE that it says cannot be released for use in the NHS because it's not safe.

"We think that it's important that the courts take a look at these contracts,  declares them unlawful and that there be full transparency of how these staggering amounts of public money have been spent."

The government has also disclosed that the original approach to sell the masks came from businessman Andrew Mills, an adviser to the Board of Trade, whose company, Prospermill, secured the rights to the full production capacity of a large Chinese factory to produce masks and was able to offer a large quantity almost immediately.

But a legal document notes that Mr Mills requested the government instead sign the contract for the masks with Ayanda Capital, whose board he advises, because it could arrange overseas payment more quickly.

Andrew Mills claims his position played no part in awarding the contract, which was subject to the same evaluation as all offers made in response to the government's request for help.

Ayanda Capital Limited said: "The masks supplied went through a rigorous technical assurance programme and meet all the technical specifications made available online through the government's portal.

"There are provisions in our contract for product to be rejected if it did not meet the required specification but these provisions have not been activated."

A government statement said: "Throughout this global pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect people on the frontline.

"More than 2.4bn items have been delivered, and more than 30bn 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 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."

The government previously revealed that some test kits, produced by Randox laboratories for NHS Test and Trace, may not have met its required safety standards and suspended their use in July.