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Front-line NHS nurses given ‘rotten’ masks during COVID-19 first wave, MPs told

Commons committee hears about out-of-date PPE distributed to healthcare staff

Commons committee hears about out-of-date PPE distributed to healthcare staff

Front-line NHS nurses were given masks with ‘rotten’ elastic and personal protective equipment (PPE) that had already expired, a Commons committee has been told.

Former director of nursing at London’s Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability Emily McWhirter recalled opening a box of gowns that ‘a load of insects crept out of’, as she gave examples of equipment difficulties during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring.

Expired PPE and no guidance on its safety and effectiveness

Members of the Public Accounts Committee gasped when Dr McWhirter said expiry dates on some PPE items

Commons committee hears about out-of-date PPE distributed to healthcare staff

House of Commons committee hears about expired and 'rotten' personal protective equipment distributed to nurses during the first wave of the pandemic
The Commons committee heard that some nurses received out-of-date, defective masks during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic Picture: iStock

Front-line NHS nurses were given masks with ‘rotten’ elastic and personal protective equipment (PPE) that had already expired, a Commons committee has been told.

Former director of nursing at London’s Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability Emily McWhirter recalled opening a box of gowns that ‘a load of insects crept out of’, as she gave examples of equipment difficulties during the first wave of COVID-19 in spring.

Expired PPE and no guidance on its safety and effectiveness

Members of the Public Accounts Committee gasped when Dr McWhirter said expiry dates on some PPE items had been covered up.

‘We did receive some that came from that stock and the expiry dates were covered over with new dates because the products were already expired,’ said Dr McWhirter, who was representing the RCN at the committee hearing.

‘So, they had put a new date on, and they said it was still safe.’

Dr McWhirter said her hospital had used the NHS supply chain for PPE and that no guidance had been given on whether expired items of equipment were still working and effective.

Former director of nursing at London’s Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability Emily McWhirter
Emily McWhirter

She told MPs that giving out and using expired equipment is acknowledged as a significant risk, but that ‘all of a sudden we’re saying it’s okay for you to use expired stock for yourselves’.

‘It undermined the kind of safety we try to promote.’

Poor quality PPE ‘added another layer of complexity’

The committee, which has launched an inquiry into the government’s procurement and supply of PPE, heard evidence from a number of healthcare professionals.

Dr McWhirter raised concerns about the quality of equipment – including masks on which the elastic was ‘rotten’. ‘Every time you put it on, they just broke, you couldn’t use them. They didn’t create any sort of seal,’ she said.

‘So, while some stock did come through, some of it was of poor quality and created another layer of complexity for staff to understand why they should be using out-of-date products.’

Dr McWhirter said the supply of PPE began to improve at the beginning of May and worked well from that point onward.


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