Jonathan Ashworth has demanded that Matt Hancock issue an apology for claiming that there was no national shortage of personal protective equipment at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
During questions to the Health Secretary in parliament, Ashworth criticised the claim made by Hancock in an interview on Sunday asking that he apologise and commit to recovering all public money paid for defective equipment.
Ashworth told MPs today that “everybody knows” there were PPE shortages and added: “The National Audit Office reported on it. We saw nurses resorting to bin bags and curtains for makeshift PPE. Hundreds of NHS staff died.
“His response was to pay a pest control firm £59m for 25 million masks that couldn’t be used; to pay a hedge fund based in Mauritius £252m again for face masks, which were inadequate; and to pay a jeweller in Florida £70m for gowns that couldn’t be used.
“So will he take this opportunity to apologise and will he commit to recovering every penny piece of tax payers’ money from those companies who provided us with duff PPE.”
The Health Secretary insisted that there was no national shortage “because of the incredible work of my team” and described the many reported cases of shortfalls and inadequate equipment on the frontline as “individual instances”.
Commenting this morning, ahead of the parliamentary session, shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan described the the claim made by Hancock on The Andrew Marr Show as an “insult” to frontline workers.
“Many frontline workers had to ration protective equipment, putting themselves at risk,” Allin-Khan, who is also a doctor, said. “Lots of it was inadequate and poorly fitting, and some NHS staff had to make gowns themselves from bin bags.”
Head of the National Audit Office Gareth Davies recently revealed while being questioned by the public accounts committee that the government is not sure where billions of pounds worth of personal protective equipment is currently located.
Labour challenged the Health Secretary last week over the government process for Covid contracts procurement going forward, after a court ruled that the lack of transparency during the pandemic has been unlawful.
Hancock also joked today that Ashworth is “welcome” in the Tory Party and added: “I might point out, Mr Speaker, that since his wife is taking the Labour Party to court, why doesn’t the whole Ashworth family come and join us on this side?”
A report focused on poor relations between the leader’s office and Labour headquarters when Jeremy Corbyn was leader was leaked last year. Ashworth’s partner Emilie Oldknow is one of those taking the party to court over the matter.
Oldknow made the case in a hearing on Monday that Labour should reveal the identities of those who leaked the document last year. A judgement was expected this morning but has been delayed after the judge outlined a number of concerns.