David Singleton, 42, a senior NHS official in London who worked at the capital’s Covid-19 Nightingale Hospital, started the business two weeks ago to exchange visors, masks and dresses.
Asked about the investigation, Singleton said he had disclosed his business to NHS superiors in accordance with the rules, and was told that it was “unlikely there would be a conflict.”
However, the NHS launched an immediate investigation. “We take any potential conflict of interest very seriously and as soon as we became aware of these allegations, an internal investigation was opened,” said a spokesperson.
A website for Singleton’s company, Sure Stock, which marketed PPE to the private sector and to NHS clients, made no reference to Singleton or his role in health services. But in a phone call to an undercover reporter posing as a potential customer, Singleton confirmed that he was running the business. He said he traded as a “sales agent” between suppliers and buyers of PPE.
According to Singleton’s LinkedIn profile, which he deleted shortly after the Guardian told him about his investigation, he is responsible for purchasing for the NHS in London. He works in a large commissioning support unit that covers the north and east of the capital and its surroundings.
In conversation with the undercover reporter, Singleton said that he was “currently an NHS employee”, but said that his role was not to buy “products”. “I provide services,” he said. “So none of the suppliers I work with interact with me during my day job. “
When asked later if he was exploiting his expertise and contacts with the NHS, Singleton said in a statement that he was not “directly involved” in responding to the shortage of PPE in the NHS “Because my role does not involve the purchase or supply of these products”.
However, information gathered by the Guardian, including internal NHS evidence by email, suggests that Singleton may have been involved in the supply of PPE. When asked to respond to a request for comment on the evidence by email, Singleton replied “no comment” and hung up. The NHS declined to comment on the evidence by email.
Singleton started his PPE business on April 15 as the shortage of protective gear for the NHS and other health and care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic reached a critical point.
His company, Sure Stock Limited, originally registered at the home of Singleton in Essex, launched the same week a website marketing PPE products for medical, dental, adult, food and personal use. .
The website offered large quantities of PPE and hygiene products for sale, including face shields or “smart visors,” priced at £ 19,500 for minimum orders of 10,000 units.
Posing as an agent at a meat processing plant, a Guardian reporter approached Sure Stock, claiming that his client urgently needed large quantities of PPE to protect approximately 800 workers and bring back the factory at full production.
The seller of Sure Stock, a friend and partner of Singleton, confirmed that the company was created by Singleton and said it could help provide lots of 20,000 visors, masks, dresses and gloves – as well as 1,000 liters of hand sanitizer – as part of a first order. The sale would have totaled more than £ 100,000.
The seller told the undercover reporter, “Essentially, a friend of mine is responsible for purchasing for NHS London. He really has a hard time getting things to people on time. So we decided to start a small business and become sales agents for people in the UK who have stocks. And then, essentially, we would help connect the supply chains that are massively disastrous right now. “
The undercover reporter then asked to speak directly to Singleton. During a 40-minute telephone conversation, Singleton told the undercover reporter, “What we do is we work with the supplier, then our margin, our commission, our referral, comes from them before prices don’t go down. So we work as a sales agent. “
He also revealed that he was an employee of the NHS. “We want to have relationships like yours. Because people like you can open doors for some of my suppliers in areas they don’t currently reach, “he told the undercover reporter. “So it’s about developing a network of trusted suppliers and buyers, because you can’t be a supplier unless you have a buyer. You can only be a buyer if you have a supplier. You must have these things. You have to log in. “
Towards the end of the call, Singleton stressed how competitive his visor prices were and encouraged the undercover reporter to “piggyback” on a large order “currently … in progress with the Far East [and a UK importer] ” He added: “What I would close by saying is when you are in a position where you know you want to place an order, rest assured that you are going to be dealing with a British company. “
Singleton told the undercover reporter that during the Covid-19 epidemic, he had been “redeployed” to Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Center and Royal London Hospital and “was helping them set up their ITU pop-up [intensive treatment unit] and their reservations ”.
In his statement to the Guardian following the secret investigation, Singleton stated that he had not set up ITU or storage rooms and had not participated in any purchases at the hospital.
He said that he had informed his employer of Sure Stock, as required, and had been informed by a supervisor that “it is unlikely that there would be a conflict”, as it was perceived that there would have no crossover in terms of customers. Singleton said the management declaration was the main step towards compliance and that it had been completed.
The Guardian understands, however, that while Singleton recently declared his new business via an internal NHS online reporting system, the disclosure was under review and had not yet been approved.
In conversation with the undercover reporter, the Singleton salesman appeared to be giving mixed reports on whether the company was planning to market to the NHS. At one point, he said, “We really don’t want to approach anyone in the NHS because there is a bit of a conflict of interest, so we’re sort of outside of that. “
But in another part of the conversation, about the scarcity of dresses on the market, the seller said, “We have a lot of NHS trusts who are frantically phoning to try to get them and they can’t. He added, “Now what we do with these, we offer the NHS 30 days to pay. “
In his email statement, Singleton stated that Sure Stock “has not sold and will not sell PPE and related equipment to the NHS or an NHS organization.” He added: “Any such allegation is false.”
However, a photograph on the Sure Stock website advertising face shields showed a visor with the NHS logo printed on the front, and the company was making offers to NHS customers. “For our NHS heroes, your price is fixed!” The website said.
In his statement, Singleton said that the face shields were not sold to the NHS because they did not comply with the complex medical device regulations that govern the manufacture and supply of these products.
The Sure Stock website was put under wraps shortly after Singleton was contacted by the Guardian for comments. Now he just says, “Soon.”