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Latest 29 January 2024

Government sells £135m worth of pandemic ventilators for ‘peanuts’

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Excalibur Healthcare bagged a contract for ventilators at £50,000 each. Now the Tories are flogging thousands of the same model – never used – for a starting price of as little as £100 each.

By Russell Scott

When scientists told the Government in March 2020 that hospitals faced running out of ventilators, the Tories put out a panicked “call to arms”. Seven weeks later, it was clear the NHS would never come close to needing the revised target of 18,000 machines set by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, in April. But Excalibur Healthcare had already landed a £135m contract to supply ventilators at more than the average price.

Good Law Project can now reveal that unused ventilators of the model supplied by Excalibur at £50,000 each are now being sold at auction, with bids starting at £100.

In April 2020, Excalibur bagged a deal to supply 2,700 VG-70 intensive care unit ventilators at a price higher than other suppliers during the same period.

According to the National Audit Office (PDF), the £50,000 supply cost included “transport from China”, but it was  “nevertheless much higher than the earlier prices for the same machine”.

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The mountains of unused and unusable medical supplies the Tories bought during the pandemic continue to be a huge headache for the Government. The cost of storing and destroying this equipment has already topped £1bn.

Last month, the Department of Health and Social Care signed a £300,000 contract with Kuenhe and Nagel for “logistics, storage, handling and auctioning services”. The firm is auctioning off a large stock of unwanted medical supplies, including 3,068 unused Aeonmed VG-70 ventilators.

These ventilators were passed on for quickfire sales to British Medical Auctions, and dozens have been listed on the company’s site. Single units – which may have originally cost the taxpayer £50,000 – appeared with bids starting at just £100.

If all 3,068 ventilators were sold at this starting price, that would bring in a total of £306,800. Excalibur supplied 2,700 of these machines at a cost of £135m.

“Government held on to these ventilators for four years before selling them for peanuts”, said Executive Director of Good Law Project, Jo Maugham. “We lost money buying them and we have wasted money storing them. On pandemic storage alone we’ve spent over a thousand million pounds, including large amounts with VIPs.”

According to Excalibur, the National Audit Office “made clear that the prices charged by Excalibur reflected the inflated costs at source — China”. “Excalibur made less than 10% margin on these agreements,” a spokesperson said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the Government “identified and secured life-saving equipment at a time when there was huge global demand”.

“We are now taking action to save taxpayers’ money on storage costs by reducing the stockpiles of ICU equipment which are no longer necessary,” a spokesperson explained, “including by selling or donating excess equipment in the most cost-effective way.”

Good Law Project approached British Medical Auctions for comment.

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