Royal Navy: MoD inventory failures "led to medicines expiring" on tours causing “significant risk to life”

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MPs have highlighted how there is a “significant risk to life” due to Ministry of Defence inventory failures that have seen medical supplies issued that passed their expiry date while armed forces were on tour.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it had warned 10 years ago of “waste and fragmentation” in the department’s supply system but that a fresh investigation had found “many of those problems remain unresolved”. In a report published today, titled Improving Defence Inventory Management, the cross-party panel said it was “sceptical” about the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) ability, through its £2.5 billion business modernisation programme, to solve the issues “given both its patchy track record and staffing gaps of around 25 per cent in the relevant programmes”.

The public spending watchdog said problems with inventory management can have “serious knock-on consequences” for military personnel. The 24-page report goes on to highlight how the MoD failed to consider the needs of its medical operations when outsourcing how equipment such as food, clothing and medical supplies are stored and procured.

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Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Largs Bay at the Sea Mounting Centre in Marchwood near Southampton. MPs have highlighted how there is a "significant risk to life" due to Ministry of Defence inventory failures that have seen medical supplies issued that passed their expiry date while armed forces were on tour. Issue date: Friday January 19, 2024. PA Photo. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it had warned 10 years ago of "waste and fragmentation" in the department's supply system but that a fresh investigation had found "many of those problems remain unresolved". Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Largs Bay at the Sea Mounting Centre in Marchwood near Southampton. MPs have highlighted how there is a "significant risk to life" due to Ministry of Defence inventory failures that have seen medical supplies issued that passed their expiry date while armed forces were on tour. Issue date: Friday January 19, 2024. PA Photo. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it had warned 10 years ago of "waste and fragmentation" in the department's supply system but that a fresh investigation had found "many of those problems remain unresolved". Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire
Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Largs Bay at the Sea Mounting Centre in Marchwood near Southampton. MPs have highlighted how there is a "significant risk to life" due to Ministry of Defence inventory failures that have seen medical supplies issued that passed their expiry date while armed forces were on tour. Issue date: Friday January 19, 2024. PA Photo. The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it had warned 10 years ago of "waste and fragmentation" in the department's supply system but that a fresh investigation had found "many of those problems remain unresolved". Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire | Chris Ison/PA Wire

As a result, MPs said units ended up being supplied with medical items “without sufficient shelf life for longer deployments”. According to the document, the Royal Navy in 2022 assessed the situation as representing a “significant risk to life” for its personnel if left unresolved. Despite that, MPs said the navy last year ruled that performance for medical inventory provision had still not improved to the required level.

MPs have recommended that defence officials write to the committee to “ensure that the requirements of medical personnel will be properly addressed in its future inventory management arrangements” and explain “how it will resolve risks more quickly in future”. Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour chairwoman of the committee, said: “Our brave armed forces personnel put themselves in harm’s way in defence of our nation, and deserve to expect that the equipment they require to do so will be there when they need it.

“Our committee warned over a decade ago of waste and fragmentation in the MoD’s supply systems, and our report finds that many of those problems remain unresolved and without the right powers to address them. We were also concerned to hear as part of our inquiry that a contract for a £515 million programme to address data gaps was awarded to a large defence prime contractor without a competitive tendering process.

“The MoD must of course continue to do everything in its power to address these issues at pace while ensuring value for money. Blind spots in the system must be brought into sharp focus, and lessons from the war in Ukraine and the pandemic urgently implemented to ensure resilient supply. We live in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world. The future must not find us under-prepared.”

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Other issues raised by PAC include concerns that the MoD’s inventory management systems remain outdated. It pointed to the navy’s base inventory system being able to record that an item is unserviceable, but not for what reason, meaning officials are unaware of what degree of repair it may require.

The report states that, while the MoD says it achieved a 25 per cent reduction in the net book value of its inventory, taking it from £16 billion to £12 billion between 2011 and 2023, the department still holds “substantial amounts of inventory that is unserviceable, overstocked or beyond the service date of its related platform”. The MPs recommended that the MoD set out its target for reducing its inventory.

An MoD spokesman said: “Meeting our operational commitments and ensuring the safety of our personnel are our highest priorities, which is why we are investing millions of pounds to deliver better medical inventory management and higher medical stockpiles. We continue to make improvements to the way we manage inventory across defence, investing £2.5 billion in logistic information systems and reducing the number of inventory systems from 250 to 89 over the past 12 years.”

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