The B.C. government wasted nearly $30 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) without being used during the COVID pandemic, according to an internal audit.
The province disposed of half the PPE it purchased to handle the first COVID wave, claiming the stock either expired or was ‘too low quality.’
The audit report, Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Phase 1, is dated March 2022 but only became public earlier this year.
“The Government was not prepared for a global supply chain disruption of this scale,” reported the auditors.
“Although the Government has a system of plans in place to respond to various emergencies, there is a gap in the planning, knowledge and resources relating to [managing] a global supply chain disruption.”
The auditors noted the province lacked a PPE stockpile at the precipice of the pandemic, forcing them to scramble to buy PPE when supply chains faced significant hurdles, and borders closed.
In response, B.C. established a new provincial supply chain coordination unit to coordinate purchasing materials pertinent to the pandemic response.
Some 18 months into the pandemic, the supply chain unit purchased $61 million worth of PPE, transferring about $16 million to the Provincial Health Services Authority and $6 million sold elsewhere in the public sector.
While the unit saved taxpayers about $10 million by renegotiating government contracts, they still wasted significant amounts.
“Buying in uncertain market conditions led to purchasing low-quality PPE,” uncovered the report.
The audit noted the unit discarded $16 million worth of PPE “due to quality issues” and an additional $13 million that “expired throughout the year.” It did not include PPE wasted by the health sector.
However, the provincial health authority and Vancouver Coastal Health supposedly wrote off 20% of its PPE following claims they were unfit for use. They discarded $67.4 million and $37.3 million in PPE in 2021.
The provincial health ministry told The Tyee they worked with non-profits and non-health organizations to repurpose and donate some unused stockpiles when “safe to do so.”
The Finance Ministry report by the office of the comptroller general made several recommendations to avoid government waste in future emergencies.
Aside from better pandemic planning, the auditors recommended developing a “stockpile strategy” to determine an appropriate PPE inventory. However, it’s unclear whether the government will act on them.
The auditors said they require the province to develop and submit an action plan in response to their recommendations, with a detailed timeframe for implementation. “We will then conduct an annual follow-up to assess progress in implementing the action plans.”