Fifty million face masks bought by the government in April will not be used in the NHS for security reasons.
The government says the masks, which use earrings rather than head rings, may not be tight enough.
They were purchased for healthcare workers from supplier Ayanda Capital under a £ 252million deal.
Ayanda says the masks meet the specifications set by the government. The government says its safety standards process is “robust”.
It also emerged that the person who initially contacted the government about the deal was a government business adviser who also advises Ayanda’s board of directors.
But he told the BBC his position played no role in awarding the contract.
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In the first few weeks of the pandemic, the NHS experienced severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The government says it had to quickly find new suppliers to meet demand and compete with growing global competition.
On April 29, the Department of Health and Welfare signed a £ 252 million contract with Ayanda Capital Limited for the supply of two types of face masks.
The most expensive part of the order consisted of 50 million FFP2 respirator masks, designed to protect healthcare workers from inhaling harmful particles.
According to legal documents seen by the BBC, the government says these masks will no longer be used in the NHS due to a safety concern.
The document says there is concern as to whether they are fitting in well.
To be effective, these types of face masks must fit properly to create a seal between the mask and the wearer’s face.
Anyone who wears them for work should have a face fit test.
“The face fit is either successful or unsuccessful and there are more failures on products with earrings than products with head harnesses,” says Alan Murray, Managing Director of the British Safety Industry Federation.
“This means it wouldn’t necessarily provide the protection it was asked for. ”
It is not known what will happen to the 50 million masks now.
Ayanda Capital has also supplied 150 million Type IIR masks, which the government says are unaffected.
Most have now been shipped, but have yet to be released for use in the NHS and are awaiting further testing.
Amounts spent “in stages”
The information was disclosed in a legal response to the Good Law Project, which seeks to challenge the government in court over three PPE contracts it awarded, including that of Ayanda Capital.
The campaign group argues that the government’s direct awarding of contracts to companies during the pandemic, rather than opening them up to competition, may have been illegal.
“He took this extraordinary amount of public money and wasted it on PPE which he said cannot be released for use in the NHS because it’s not safe,” said Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project.
“We think it is important that the court looks at these contracts, declares them illegal and that there is full transparency on how these huge amounts of public money have been spent. “
The government also revealed that the original approach to selling the masks did not come from Ayanda Capital, but from a businessman called Andrew Mills.
His company Prospermill had secured the rights to the full production capacity of a large factory in China to produce masks and was able to offer a large quantity almost immediately.
But the legal document seen by the BBC notes that Mr Mills has asked the government to sign the contract for the masks with Ayanda Capital instead, which he advises the board of directors, as he could arrange payment more quickly. ‘foreign.
Mr Mills is also an adviser to the UK Board of Trade.
He told the BBC that his position played no role in awarding the contract which was subject to the same assessment as any bids made in response to the government’s request for assistance.
Ayanda Capital Limited said, “The masks provided have gone through a rigorous technical assurance program and meet all the requirements of the technical specifications that have been posted on the government portal.
“There are provisions in our contract for the product to be rejected if it does not meet the specifications required under the contract. These provisions have not been activated. ”
A government statement said: “Throughout this global pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to provide PPE to protect people on the front lines.
“Over 2.4 billion items have been delivered and over 30 billion have been ordered from UK manufacturers and international partners to provide a continuous supply, which meets the needs of healthcare and social care workers, today today and in the future.
“A strong process is in place to ensure that orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with due diligence necessary for all government procurement. “