The worrisome report comes at a time when confusion has mounted in the UK over a massive order for Turkish-manufactured protective equipment, part of which has reportedly failed tests for safety standards.
It has emerged that millions of items in the British epidemic kit stockpile, including 80% of respirators at the NHS’s disposal, were already out of date by the time the corona crunch hit the country in late January, according to a Channel 4 report.
The broadcaster obtained stock lists that reveal exactly what was held on 30 January, the day the coronavirus was declared an international emergency. Use-by dates on roughly 200 million vital pieces of equipment – including almost 21 million of the nation’s 26.3 million respirators – had expired. More than 84 million face masks were also found to have gone out of date between June 2019 and January 2020.
Meanwhile, a huge batch of thousands of Turkish-made protective gowns have been impounded and others sit unused at a Heathrow facility, after they were found to be “useless” against coronavirus in the crisis-struck country, The Daily Telegraph revealed.
A part of the initial batch of 67,000 that arrived in the UK last month has failed safety tests, forcing officials to impound the majority of the rest so they can be properly tested, the edition notes.
Only 4,500 gowns were passed as fit for use in the health service – around 1% of the original order – while another 170,000 gowns were being held in Turkey so they could be tested there, according to a government spokesman, who also added that another part of the order is currently being stored in British warehouses.
The update arrived nearly a day after initial reports that all 400,000 gowns ordered were unfit for use, which caused Turkey to complain that ministers were wrongly portraying the real state of affairs.
Turkish health authorities dismissed reports about the UK being set to reverse the order for 400,000 items and demand a refund, asserting that they had received a written letter from the NHS saying there were no problems with the shipment, according to the Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak.
A Turkish diplomatic source shared with The Guardian that the country had been trying to sort out what the problem was throughout Thursday and argued that issues over the order had been exaggerated. “So far nobody has approached us or claimed anything from any company in Turkey”, the source added.
Downing Street officials subsequently said that the NHS was negotiating to get new gowns sent, or it would ask for a refund from the supplier, Selegna, which had reportedly switched from manufacturing t-shirts to medical supplies as the coronavirus pandemic gained momentum.
Selegna, founded around three months ago, said it had had no contact with the NHS on Thursday and insisted that no problems with the shipment had been mentioned earlier when the company said it was in touch with NHS officials.
“The fabric of the aprons is certified. All products are certified. If there was a problem, they could do research and let us know”, textile businessman and former UK parliamentary candidate Mehmet Duzen, whose sister owns Selegna, told the BBC. They stressed they stood ready to sort out any problems.
In an email sent to the Department of Health and Social Care in mid-March Duzen reportedly offered to sew hospital gowns for UK hospitals, which were to be flown to Britain just weeks later.
Senior MPs including Tobias Ellwood have now called for an investigation into the mission to manufacture gowns abroad, dubbed “Air Jenrick” – in a nod to Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, who announced the Turkish shipment – to find if there had been any “errors”.
The investigation and reports come as the UK has confirmed 207,973 cases of COVID-19, including 30,689 related deaths – the second biggest corona death tally in the world after the US.