‘Less than 10th’ of PPE order arrives in UK, despite downpayment | World news

The NHS paid a deposit last Friday in an attempt to secure the delivery of 400,000 badly needed protective gowns – but despite the downpayment only 32,000 are believed to have arrived in the first part of the delayed shipment.

Initial estimates were that a quarter of the order had been brought back from Istanbul on Wednesday by the RAF but the Health Service Journal reported the amount received was 32,000, which amounts to only a few hours supply.

Air freight specialists who have seen images of the shipment told the Guardian they estimated it was less than 10% of the kit sought, by counting the pallets and studying the images closely.

It is understood that the Turkish company approached the NHS on Thursday offering to supply 400,000 clinical gowns, with an order placed within hours and an unspecified deposit paid the following day. The remainder of the payment was to be made when the whole order was completed, health sources added.

But insiders said the supplier was almost immediately hit with “an unexpected manufacturing delay”, raising questions about whether the company had the ability to deliver on the shipment as promised.

On Wednesday, Nadine Dorries, the health minister, said there had been problems finding reliable sources of supply, as she criticised Labour for publicising a list of potential PPE suppliers.

The minister wrote: “Lots of companies making contact ‘I have 200 masks’ but when you dig deeper, they don’t have any, they are just offering to act as agents and find some, for a commission.”

Over 100 NHS workers have died from coronavirus and repeated exposure to the sick has made them one of the most vulnerable groups, who badly need full protective equipment to care for people safely.

Nevertheless, a succession of cabinet ministers promised that gowns would arrive imminently, starting with the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, who said at Saturday’s daily press conference that the kit would arrive the following day.

Last night it emerged that the department of health “strongly advised” Downing Street and Jenrick not to mention the consignment, but faced with growing concern over PPE shortages for frontline staff he did so anyway.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, successively promised that the gowns would arrive on Monday, but they were delayed once again.

Initially the delay in securing the order was blamed on the failure to obtain export licences for the kit – with some applications being made on Monday. But once the approvals had been obtained there was at first no kit to pick up.

Eventually a shipment did reach Istanbul airport on Tuesday and was flown out overnight by an Atlas A400M transport aircraft. But it was far less than the 84-tonne consignment that had been expected.

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