Scottish Labour has accused Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government of “short-changing key workers” by providing health staff with “out-of-date” personal protective equipment while dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.
Opposition party leader Richard Leonard asked the Scottish government in late October for information on how many PPE items had seen their expiry dates changed since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The answer to the written parliamentary question by SNP health lead Jeane Freeman revealed that over 1.7 million respirators made by multinational 3M had their expiry dates changed by five years from 2016 to 2021.
The response also allowed the public to know that more than 106,000 FFP3 respirators made by Alpha Solway had their expiry dates changed yet more significantly, by nine years from 2012 to – once again – 2021.
The cabinet member for health qualified the answer by explaining that “extending the shelf-life of masks is standard practice to ensure supply of critical equipment to frontline staff during crises” and the PPE is tested.
But Scottish Labour has raised concerns and claimed that a total of 1,878,965 masks having their shelf life extended puts into doubt the Scottish government’s PPE action plan that was published late last month.
The plan covers health, social care and other essential public services where people need to wear masks, gloves, eye protection and/or gowns to be protected against Covid-19, and sets out supply planning for winter.
Commenting on the news, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “The SNP government offers “gratitude” to frontline workers but if this is the best they can do then we should all be worried.
“Palming off out-of-date PPE to valued NHS staff is a cheap way to reward their efforts, and doesn’t inspire confidence in the Scottish government’s new PPE Action Plan, which promises to support frontline staff and keep them safe.
“The Scottish government should not be cutting corners when people’s lives are at stake. Our hospital staff and patients deserve better than this, and the best equipment.”
Leonard’s party has highlighted that the alteration of dates on vital PPE comes as 87,000 Alpha Solway FFP3 respirators were recalled last month from dentists in Lanarkshire as around 10% failed tests for suitability.
After the tests indicated that the masks did not correctly fit the face to protect the wearer and patient, Labour’s Monica Lennon pointed out that the firm had been awarded a £53m contract to supply the NHS in Scotland.
The opposition health spokesperson said: “The Scottish government must reassure the public that appropriate PPE stockpiles are being maintained to get us through the challenging winter period.”
The latest figures for coronavirus in Scotland on November 8th showed that 1,115 new cases were reported, 1,245 people were in hospital and 111 people were in intensive care on Saturday with recently confirmed Covid-19.