The the government almost £1 billion of taxpayers’ money could have been saved if it had agreed to release a reusable dresses for NHS personnel instead of single use, The Independent it was said.

Analysis presented to Whitehall and the National Health Service in spring 2020 shows that in one month, the British manufacturing industry could produce three million dresses that could be worn repeatedly and washed up to 100 times by employees.

This supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) would have lasted for the first two years of the pandemic and saved more than £800 million in the process, according to figures and estimates compiled by the Textile Services Association (TSA), which represents laundries of businesses that supply the NHS.

But the government eventually approved the mass distribution of disposable gowns, despite higher overall costs and a larger carbon footprint.

A separate analysis commissioned by the Cabinet Office shows that the carbon footprint associated with the manufacture, transport, wearing and subsequent disposal of a UK-made disposable gown is 1,164 per cent greater than that of a reusable gown.

The TSA estimates that about 460,000 disposable gowns were put on and thrown away by employees every day during the first peak of the pandemic.

Hundreds of thousands of disposable gowns were used and thrown away during the first peak of the pandemic

(PA Wire)

David Stevens, the TSA’s executive director, said: “Looking at the numbers, you can’t help but say that this was not a much better decision. It’s half the money, 1000 percent less carbon footprint, much more reliable. It’s all on shore, good for Britain, made in Britain. There isn’t a single box left unchecked.

“At our peak we only needed three million dresses because you pick them up every week, wash them and send them back.

“A one-time commitment to a multi-use solution would last two years, and even then it would be possible to put them back into storage in a small enough stock, ready for the next potential outbreak.”

The TSA took part in a discussion on reusable gowns with officials from the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS Improvement.

He claims his strategy was pitched to ministers but never worked. Instead, the government relied on foreign and British manufacturers to mass-produce disposable dresses.

Factories in the UK that were awarded contracts for disposable gowns had the equipment and facilities to produce reusable gowns, the TSA said. In some cases, factories had to rebuild their shops to design the dresses.

About 20,000 laundry workers were on home leave for most of the pandemic but could be called upon to wash multi-purpose dresses every week, Mr Stevens said, adding that this would preserve a segment of the economy.

Estimates show that TSA members would need to wash 2 million dresses per week during the peak periods of the pandemic. Despite government concerns about the ability to meet this demand, the sector could wash up to 50 million dresses each week, Mr Stevens said.

The TSA suspects that the disposable gown strategy was adopted because it proved more profitable for those companies with personal ties to the government.

“Existing dress manufacturers in the UK were completely bypassed because they didn’t have government connections,” Mr Stevens said. “Many deals were made with disposable manufacturers without a fair and open tender process.”

He said one of the main reasons for the breakdown in talks with the government was that advisers and Whitehall officials involved in the discussions kept changing roles in spring 2020.

“Each of these government agencies had a few people who understood the benefits of a sustainable and cost-effective reuse strategy,” added Shiju Scaria, TSA’s director of programs and projects. “However, the public procurement system was not created flexibly enough to cope with the moment of crisis.

“Everyone was panic buying and someone said we need protective gowns and we need 460,000 a day. [Then-US President] Trump tried to buy all the fabrics in the world. So there was some panic.”

A DHSC spokesman said: “To save lives, we have focused our efforts, resources and attention on finding personal protective equipment. We continue to follow the efforts we made in the midst of the early pandemic to prioritize and protect our employees on the front lines.”

DHSC said it had received an “overwhelming response” to its “call to arms for new PPE suppliers” in April 2020 and had “delivered more than 19.8 billion pieces of PPE to protect our frontline workers” – a fifth of which were provided by 30 British. – companies.

The spokesman added: “It is wrong to suggest that suppliers were prioritized because of political connections.”

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