Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers
Insiders working for Movianto, the company in charge of the UK’s strategic stockpile of PPE have told ITV News of management chaos and disorganisation in the firm.
It’s prompted questions about whether that could have delayed masks, gloves and gowns getting to frontline health workers at the peak of the crisis.
Contractors and former managers working for Movianto claim the company botched the vital storage and distribution of the stockpile, allegations rejected by the Department of Health and Social Care.
In a joint investigation with the Guardian, ITV News has uncovered evidence problems went back months and included the use of a wholly inadequate warehouse which was affected by asbestos contamination and nearly caught fire.
Documents obtained by ITV News showed the NHS paid Movianto, a company which specialises in healthcare storage, supply and distribution, to house 50,000 pallets of PPE from August 2018.
Dan Rivers on the government response to the investigation
Under the terms of the deal, Movianto “may be called upon to make urgent deliveries of medicals in the UK at short notice, or no notice”. It’s understood the company was paid 10.5 million pounds a year by the NHS.
A number of workers at the firm claim Movianto failed to distribute the supplies efficiently and in March this year, the army was brought in to try to speed up distribution of PPE to hospitals.
Serious concerns have also been raised by those workers about the conditions in which the PPE supplies were stored at the warehouse. Initially the stockpile was housed at a warehouse in Knowsley, Merseyside.
Footage from inside the warehouse shows some aisles blocked by pallets, meaning forklift trucks would struggle to get between the racking to deploy all this at short notice.
Footage showing aisles blocked by pallets of PPE
Site manager Colin Lewis alleged the organisation at the warehouse was “disgraceful”, adding: “They had stuff on the floor, they had no security everything was left in the aisles.”
He added: “They moved into a building that was incomplete, as far as I was concerned.”
Delivery driver Asif Hussain further claimed: “Nobody seemed to know what they were doing - it took hours and hours to get one van loaded up. Sometimes they couldn’t find the stuff in the warehouse; there was that many pallets of mask and gels and aprons sometimes they couldn’t find it.”
Movianto claims this was “part of the normal inventory checking process, some stock would be in the aisles as it is temporarily moved down from the racking, to allow visual inspection by the stock inventory team”.
Contractor Mark Wakefield claims supplies were coming into the warehouse while asbestos was being treated
But sources ITV News has spoken to say the aisles were blocked for months.
ITV News has also seen two detailed reports showing asbestos dust was found at multiple locations in the warehouse in early 2019, several months after the PPE stockpile had arrived.
Contractors have confirmed they were still trying to decontaminate the site when Movianto took possession of the building.
The Department of Health and Social Care says it is entirely false to suggest the pandemic influenza stock has not been safely or securely stored at all times.
The fire brigade was also called to the site in December 2018 after a fire broke out. Black smoke billowed from the site for three days.
Movianto admits there was a fire as does the Department of Health, but said there was no smoke ingress into the building and blames the landlord for failing to provide mains electricity as they were obliged to do under the terms of the lease.
The stockpile of PPE was moved to a new bespoke building in the north-west of England.
Delivery driver Asif Hussain on his experiences at the Movianto warehouse
In a statement Movianto insisted that once it was requested to mobilise PPE, “it did so without delay in accordance and in satisfaction of their contractual obligations”.
It added that "military were deployed to Movianto, not because of any shortcomings in Movianto’s performance, but in support of the national effort to tackle this pandemic".
A Department for Health spokesman said: “The pandemic influenza stockpile has always been readily deployable and it is entirely false to claim otherwise.
“There has been no damage to any of the stockpile and it has been safely and securely stored at all times.
“We have delivered more than 1.2 billion items of PPE since this global outbreak began. This is an unprecedented pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided by the best scientific advice, to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Health minister Edward Argar said: “We'd switched from a PPE supplying system which was used to supplying about 233 NHS trusts in normal times and that ramped up to PPE being supplied to about 58 thousand different settings across the country.
“That's a huge change, a huge increase, and a big logistical challenge. So alongside existing mechanisms that we had that work very smoothly in normal times.
“When we see the scale of the challenge and when we address that as we have done, you have to put in place additional measures to make sure that the PPE gets to where it's needed. And I have to say that the military have done a fantastic job for this country as they always do.”
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