Key items of PPE came close to running out at start of COVID pandemic
Stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) were "very low" in April 2020 with some items just hours away from running out, according to a report.
Audit Scotland said NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) held less than a day's worth of stock of long sleeve gowns and just a few days' of other key items in its warehouse.
In a report published today, auditors said the rise in PPE prices at the start of the pandemic increased costs for NHS NSS by over £37m.
Audit Scotland said NHS NSS distributed 1.1 billion of items of PPE between March 2020 and April 2021.
It called for a better long-term approach to PPE planning.
It said NHS NSS had awarded new PPE contracts using emergency procurement procedures, including 78 contracts worth £340m awarded to companies providing PPE between March 2020 and June 2021.
Twenty-nine of these contracts, worth £98m, were awarded to new suppliers with no competition. NHS NSS also awarded contracts to Scottish manufacturers to establish a more resilient supply chain.
With some NHS boards reporting shortages of PPE in April 2020, the situation changed daily, with stock arriving in shipments. NHS NSS said there were always incoming orders to help manage the supply, with stock arriving and being shipped out to NHS boards on the same day at some points.
The auditors' report also found the Scottish Government did not fully implement recommendations from pandemic preparedness exercises and could have done more to ensure access to PPE and training in how to use it.
Auditor General Stephen Boyle said: "The Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland worked well together under extremely challenging circumstances to set up new arrangements for the supply and distribution of PPE to health and social care settings.
"The challenge now will be in developing a longer-term approach to PPE supply and distribution that includes both business as usual needs as well as preparing for future pandemics."
The issue was raised at First Minister's Questions by Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who asked Nicola Sturgeon why her government had not acted on previous reports raising concerns.
The First Minister said that while supplies had indeed run low, those working in the NHS had worked hard to make sure they never ran out.
Speaking after FMQs, Sarwar said: "The report published today by Audit Scotland lays out the truth about PPE provision during the pandemic.
"The Scottish Government was not prepared, despite three planning exercises making recommendations about the PPE.
"When Covid struck, that meant we did not have adequate supplies and struggled to cope.
"The Scottish Government claim they did not run out of PPE - that might have been the case on the First Minister's spreadsheet, but it wasn't the reality in our hospitals and care homes."
A Scottish government spokesperson said COVID-19 had brought "unprecedented global demand" for PPE.
"In the first phase of the pandemic, there were collapses in the international PPE supply chain, combined with greatly increased levels of demand for PPE in Scotland and around the world.
"Scotland never ran out of PPE. Work undertaken by the Scottish government and its partner organisations at that time included setting up a whole new Scottish supply chain from scratch, with the creation of hundreds of jobs.
"The Scottish government agrees with Audit Scotland that we need to learn from this pandemic and bring that learning into planning for future pandemics - and that work is already under way."