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GP wholesalers sent out more than 5,000 faulty face masks

by Costanza Pearce
3 July 2020

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More than 5,000 ‘GP practices and others’ received faulty face masks which posed a risk to users, our sister publication, Pulse has learned.

This is based on data from two wholesalers that distributed masks from the Government’s pandemic stockpile.

Two days ago, the DHSC told Pulse that it could not confirm an exact number of faulty masks in circulation but expected it to be low

The face masks were past their expiry date, but had been relabelled with a new date, and the DHSC had initially said they were ‘safe to use’.

The manufacturer re-tested the masks after concerns were raised in May, finding that they could potentially harm the user if the foam strip on the mask flakes and enters the mouth or airways.

More details about the issue have now come to light, as NHS England told a live webinar last night that two ‘main GP wholesalers’ had been provided with the faulty stock.

It said these were Williams and Phoenix Medical, with Williams having identified 1,600 customers which received the masks, including 180 which ‘still hold stock’. It had yet to receive data from Phoenix Medical.

But Phoenix Medical told Pulse today that almost 3,500 customers had received the faulty masks.

A spokesperson said: ‘As a supplier that puts the safety of our customers, pharmacists, and their customers first, we have sent an immediate communication to all 3,473 customers who received the Cardinal Type IIR face masks, requesting they stop using, quarantine all affected shipments and dispose of them locally.’

Williams managing director Hugh Hamer said: ‘Williams Medical has been working with the DHSC throughout the Covid crisis to distribute their pandemic contingency stock to frontline primary care sites. An issue with this stock (Cardinal Health Type IIR masks) has been identified and we are continuing to work with the DHSC to ensure minimum disruption to our customers.’

NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘The wholesalers identified the customers – practices and others – who received the masks and asked them to destroy the stock.’

NHS England reiterated that practices who have had to destroy stock will have their faulty masks replaced by the Government.

A slide presented to the webinar said: ‘Customers will require replacement and this is the DHSC’s intention. A credit would not be appropriate as the costs of the stock issued in March would have been much lower than the cost to provide equivalent replacement now.’

The DHSC is working with wholesalers to ‘gauge the scale and evidence required’ for replacement, it added.

Cardinal Health has told Pulse it divested the business in 2010 and was not responsible for the re-dating of the masks.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has branded the incident a ‘national scandal’ and said the Government must ensure they replace the masks with in-date items, rather than any that have been re-dated.

In March, 20 regions were found to have received batches of face masks with a 2016 expiry date hidden by a ‘2021’ sticker.

However, the Government defended the move to supply the masks to practices, saying that they had been tested.