Almost 80% of respirators in the national pandemic stockpile were out of date when coronavirus hit the UK.
Channel 4 News has obtained detailed stock lists that reveal exactly what was held, on the day coronavirus was declared an international emergency.
Around 200 million vital pieces of kit – including respirators, masks, syringes and needles – had all expired in the eight months before 30 January.
This included 20.9 million out-of-date respirators, from a total of 26.3 million. The tightly-fitting mouth masks are vital for filtering the air that NHS workers breathe.
The documents also reveal that more than half of the national stockpile of surgical facemasks had also expired.
In total, 45% of the 19,909 boxes holding PPE supplies had exceeded their use-by dates.
The documents suggest a failure by Public Health England and NHS Supply Chain’s management company, Supply Chain Coordination Limited, to maintain the stockpile in a state of readiness.
Expired stock is excluded from distribution, meaning millions of boxes of kit could have been delayed from being sent to hospitals and care homes – just as the virus began to spread.
Millions of expired respirators weren’t cleared for release until they were tested, between 10 March and 19 March. By this time, the UK was already suffering a desperate shortage of PPE.