A report by the NI Audit Office has found “clear evidence” of PPE shortages in the health sector in Northern Ireland during the pandemic.

The report by Auditor General Kieran Donnelly found stocks remained “very low” until June 2020 and only increased after “extensive lobbying” after the rapid spread of the pandemic in care homes.

The auditor revealed there was a 429% increase in the number of PPE items between March 2020 and May 2021.

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Mr Donnelly said lessons must be learned and urged less reliance on uncompetitive procurement processes and better controls for managing “potential conflicts of interest”.

The auditor said the report “reflects and recognises the enormous challenges facing the health service, particularly at the outset of the pandemic”, adding the entire system was “under immense pressure to identify new sources and secure orders”.

The report says there should have been greater clarity over longer-term procurement and funding arrangements for PPE provision to the independent care sector.

Its finding was welcomed by the Department of Health (DoH) for “highlighting the enormous challenges that faced the health service at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The DoH said “hugely intensified global competition” had resulted in an international supply shortage as well as “significant price increases”.

Northern Ireland’s health service incurred very high PPE costs early in the pandemic, with average pre-COVID prices increasing by 957% for gowns, and 1,314% for Type IIR masks.

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