Boris Johnson’s PPE figures don’t tell the whole story

20 January 2022
What was claimed

The UK is now capable of producing 80% of our own PPE.

Our verdict

This is based on a snapshot figure from a year ago, and doesn’t include gloves which make up around 45% of the UK’s PPE demand.

Thanks to the efforts of people across Whitehall, this country is now capable of producing 80% of our own PPE.

During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 19 January, Boris Johnson claimed the UK is now capable of producing 80% of its own personal protective equipment (PPE). 

However, this is based on a snapshot figure covering the short period from 1 December 2020 to 28 February 2021 when, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the UK-produced supply of PPE constituted 82% of expected demand. At the time, the government was working towards a target of 70% of PPE to be domestically produced. 

Full Fact could find no more recent equivalent figures, and was told by spokespeople both for Number 10 and the DHSC that these were the most recently available figures—despite being almost a year out of date. 

A spokesperson for the DHSC told Full Fact that the department keeps “constant data on our PPE capacity—though it is not routinely published”. 

When asked for the most recent figure, a spokesperson added: “I believe this is the most recently publicly available figure—other than this I would just point back to the PM’s words.” 

As was reported in December 2020, the claim that the UK produces 80% of its own demand for PPE is misleading as this does not include gloves

According to the National Audit Office, the DHSC estimated that 19.6 million gloves would be needed each day to tackle the Covid-19 crisis as of April 2020. 

To put that in context, the same document says that all the other PPE needed (including aprons, masks and eye protection), amount to 24.5 million items—meaning gloves made up almost half (around 45%) of the total estimated PPE demand in April 2020. 

During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, NHS trusts had 99% of their demand for gloves fulfilled compared to 14% across social care. Some other types of PPE such as gowns and glasses had much lower fulfillment rates (11% and 25% for trusts respectively and almost none across social care). 

Image courtesy of Mat Napo, via Unsplash.

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