The Ministry of Health did not start certifying the quality of the material it was buying in China to face the crisis of coronavirus up to 37 days after declaring a state of alarm and assuming sole command in the procurement of key supplies. The department that directs Salvador Illa signed the first contract to inspect its imports from Asia on April 21, as reflected in an agreement by the National Institute of Health Management (Ingesa) with the Spanish industrial verification company Aenor Internacional SAU, recently unveiled.At the time of Aenor’s hiring, Healthcare had already spent around 950 million euros in the purchase of masks, protective equipment, covid-19 tests, swabs and other essential products to face the pandemic. Part of these lots arrived in Spain and were distributed by the different autonomous communities despite presenting serious deficiencies that caused dozens of infections. So it was with a shipment of 2.1 million masks flaws of the Chinese brand Garry Galaxy that were acquired by Health through an intermediary in the same country after pay him in advance 23.8 million euros.
The purchase was signed on March 20 and the material began to reach hospitals throughout the country in the first days of April. These were masks with FFP2 protection level, one of the most demanding and indicated for this reason for healthcare workers. However, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Hygiene found that the batch imported by the ministry did not reach the 92% filtration required for that standard, but remained at 70%. The general director of the Common Portfolio of the National Health Service, Patricia Lacruz, had to send a circular on April 15 to all communities to order the “immediate withdrawal” of all copies. Only in Galicia they caused at least 76 infections among health personnel.
Health signed the contract with Aenor six days after that episode, as specified in the award clauses, which had not been disclosed until now. Through the agreement, the ministry ensured control of the “technical documents of the material supply companies”; the “production control inspection”; the “supervision of the load” of the acquired lots; its “supervision and final inspection”; the “taking of samples for laboratory testing”, and the “inspection in the supplier factory for the implementation of the EN ISO 13485 standard”, specifically for the production of medical equipment.
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Health sources assure this newspaper that the hiring of Aenor had the objective of achieving a “security plus” in their acquisitions and stress that, until that moment, the ministry itself carried out inspections of all kinds from a “technical and financial point of view ” “Technical sheets, description of characteristics, solvency …”, they affirm. Those controls, however, did not prevent incidents like that of the masks.
He was not the only one to question the reliability of supplies from the Illa department. On March 26, a month before the hiring of Aenor, the director of the Ministry’s Coordination Center for Alerts and Health Emergencies, Fernando Simón, had to admit at a press conference that 8,000 rapid tests had been purchased from covid-19 that did not offer the expected reliability. Soon after, it was discovered that the provider, the Chinese firm Shenzen Bioeasy Biotechonology, did not have the endorsement of the Beijing authorities to export sanitary material. The scandal ended up affecting a game of 640,000 units. They had not passed any type of exam, but Illa’s wallet paid for them. 17.1 million euros through a Barcelona broker that kept secret for weeks.
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The most controversial awards were made by FCS Select Products SL, a Catalan merchant dedicated to the ‘marketing’ of alcoholic beverages, whose sole administrator was convicted in 2015 for a crime of continued fraud. During the first days of March and the first days of April, the Health Ministry awarded him several contracts for the supply of masks for a total amount of 263 million euros. The most important shipment arrived in Spain in the hours prior to April 13. The government had previously announced that it would distribute 10 million units on public transport that day. Moncloa got the copies it had promised, but neither FCS Select Products nor Sanidad have ever revealed which Chinese manufacturers the merchandise was purchased from, nor is there any evidence that they met minimum safety standards.
With the award to Aenor del Ingesa after five weeks of alarm, Sanidad tried to avoid new fiascos. The certification company undertook to verify the quality of purchases from manufacturers of “surgical masks, pediatric masks, gowns for surgical settings, nitrile examination gloves and swabs” for coronavirus testing. The contract is still in force. It does not end until August 21 and includes the option of extending it for another two months.
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According to the agreement signed by Ingesa – the body of the ministry that centralized the tenders since the beginning of the crisis – the price of merchandise checks is set at a global maximum of 160,000 euros, VAT included, with a list of rates for each of the individual services. The study of documentation of a factory in origin amounts to 242 euros; The inspection of the production at the plant itself is another 605 euros, and the inspection of the ISO 13485 rule, 1,452 euros per working day, for example. In Spain, factory and warehouse inspections remain at 968 euros per day. The contract signed by the ministry with Aenor also includes a confidentiality clause.
The Government also demonstrated lack of foresight in other chapters. As this newspaper revealed, despite the fact that since the end of February it was known that the SARS-CoV-2 severely affected breathing and many patients needed mechanic ventilation, Health did not contact the only Spanish manufacturer of respirators to ask them to increase production until March 18, after the declaration of the state of alarm and when they had already died of coronavirus 598 people.