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February 28, 2008

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Government accused of police PPE failure

A Conservative MP has charged the Government with backtracking on a police contract for respiratory personal protective equipment (PPE), and putting the health and safety of ambulance crews at risk.

The contract, which was won by Avon Rubber in 2006, estimated that in the first two years of the agreement, 170,000 escape hoods would be required for use by emergency responders – 140,000 for the police and 30,000 for NHS ambulance crew – so that they would be better equipped to escape safely from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack.

But, according to Tory MP Michael Ancram, although the ambulance service had bought its 30,000, the number of hoods ordered by the police amounted to just 21,000. Speaking in the Commons on 27 February, he said the hoods would provide ambulance crews with short-term protection at the scene of an incident, but staff could be denied immediate police back-up because officers had no such hoods.

Describing the contract as a sham, he said: “The Government owe it to the people to ensure that the services of law and order, and the rescue services, are all properly equipped to respond in a coordinated manner to such situations. Failure to do so could be culpable.”

Security minister Tony McNulty rejected Ancram’s accusation that the Government had failed to abide by the terms of the contract, by arguing that the 170,000 figure was never guaranteed, and that it was up to individual police forces to determine whether to purchase additional quantities of centrally supplied equipment, or to supplement it with alternative kit.

“Although the contract does indeed provide estimated sales volumes and overall value, it also makes clear that there can be no guarantees of the actual number of units purchased,” explained McNulty.

“Given that the requirement for the [hood] was derived from a police health and safety assessment, and that individual chief constables are responsible for the health and safety of their staff, it is right that forces should be responsible for purchasing the products according to their respective needs and their professional assessment and judgement.”

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