How an emailed offer of help from a Turkish T-shirt salesman led to a PPE fiasco

Exactly what happened next is unclear. According to sources, UK officials in Turkey did check the boxes of gowns supplied by Selegna to make sure they adhered to the agreed standards.

After being given the go-ahead, RAF personnel dragged an initial consignment of around 67,000 gowns on to two more planes, which left for the UK later that week. But when they arrived, inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive discovered a major problem. Tests on around 2,400 of the gowns revealed that they would not, in fact, keep NHS workers safe from coronavirus.

Around 4,500 more did pass the tests, but officials placed an immediate halt on further deliveries. The “useless” gowns were impounded in a facility near Heathrow, where they remain.

Senior sources admitted on Thursday that a further 170,000 Selegna gowns were blocked by the UK after the alarm was raised, and are still in Turkey being checked by the Turkish Standards Institute.

Hospital trusts which had been promised the vital gear were then informed that their deliveries had been cancelled.

Asked on Thursday what had happened, Mr Duzen claimed he had not received any complaints from the NHS. “The fabric we supplied was certified,” he insisted. “If there was a problem, they could do research and let us know.”

Sources at the Department of Health, however, said officials were in negotiations with Selegna to either supply safe PPE or hand back the deposit.

“There was a view that it was good enough PPE – it is only when it has got here that teams have looked at it again and taken a view that it is not up to the right standard and they’ve decided not to use it,” said Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, on Thursday.

It is not known exactly how much the UK has already paid, but the total order is thought to be in the region of £300,000.

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee, called for an investigation “if errors have been committed”. He said: “I want this Government to succeed – but you need to demonstrate your success, not promise it and fail to deliver.”

Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “This illustrates the danger of making promises on a wing and a prayer. 

“We have warned repeatedly that setting big targets which are then not met and saying all will be well, when at the sharp end of care it is manifestly not, undermines confidence among clinical staff on the front line.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said on Thursday that ministers were grateful for the assistance of the Turkish government, adding: “We have received part of an order of around 400,000 gowns from a private supplier in Turkey. While a small number of these gowns have failed tests in the UK, more have passed tests making them suitable for use in the NHS.

“We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically, and more orders are lined up and expected from suppliers in the UK and overseas.” 

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