Chair writes to Health and Safety Executive over importance of independence

23 Nov 2020 04:11 PM

Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Stephen Timms MP has written to the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive Sarah Newton about reports that the HSE was under ‘political’ pressure to approve Personal Protective Equipment from a particular contractor for use during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The letter stresses the importance of the HSE being able to make impartial and independent decisions free from the influence of Ministers or officials. It follows a report from the BBC last week about the process followed for approving PPE from PestFix.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, yesterday said:

“NHS workers are putting themselves at risk on the frontline during this pandemic. They deserve to feel safe and have confidence that a proper and rigorous process is being followed to approve the Personal Protective Equipment that enables them to carry out their vital work.

“While it doesn’t appear that any outside pressure influenced HSE officials making assessments in this case, reports that give an impression of political interference risk harming faith in the safety of PPE. This case acts as a crucial reminder of the importance of the independence of the regulator, and of allowing expert officials to get on with their job without any perceived meddling from government.”

The letter asks for an assessment of the role any Government pressure played in the timing or decision to approve the PPE from PestFix. It also asks whether concerns about political pressure had been raised by officials and about the process by which HSE responds in such situations.

On Wednesday, the National Audit Office published a report on the Government’s approach to procurement during the coronavirus pandemic, noting the urgent need to procure PPE in the first few months. The Committee’s letter asks for details on how safety assessments are carried out for PPE procured through the ‘high priority’ lane.

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