“We had members contact us about the dates on the boxes they received and we sought clarifications on their behalf. We were told that they had been tested and were safe for use.
“We are appalled that due care and attention was not given to the risk of using these masks,” she added.
“The masks have been used in services where there were already outbreaks and the consequence don’t bear thinking about.”
The masks were sent to every care home in the country at the peak of the pandemic. At the time, stock was being diverted to the NHS and care providers were unable to access supplies of masks from their normal supply chains.
When the NCA raised a query that these masks were from a government stockpile and out of date by as much as seven years, they said the official response was that the masks had all been rechecked and were in working order.
“In reality, we now learn, they were faulty and have only just been recalled – when most will already have been used months ago,” said Ahmed.
In a recall notice issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 26 June, care homes were told they must immediately stop using the Cardinal Health IIR masks and destroy them because of “a risk to staff” if the masks degrade.
Ahmed said: “We face continued challenges as a sector because Covid-19 is still within communities. Insurers are taking Covid cover out of their policies on renewal whilst raising the costs to cover the businesses. Clearly, government will have to take full responsibility and liability for any backlash caused by their actions.”
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the incident had put staff and residents at risk, as well as putting homes at risk of serious financial consequences. “This clearly shows that some of the advice given by government throughout the pandemic turns out not to have been the right advice.
“I don’t know how the government got it so wrong but we need to know who told care homes the equipment was safe, who gave them their advice and how that advice was so wrong,” he added.
Both Ahmed and Green said the incident showed that the “protective ring” the government said had been thrown up around care homes was anything but protective.
“Once again we note that care providers were at the back of the queue,” said Ahmed.
Green added, “I have never believed in this protective ring because I’ve never seen a single example of it. This incident is yet more evidence that it never existed.”
Sky News reported that the same masks were issued to GP surgeries and have also now been withdrawn, leading to concerns that thousands of medical and care staff may have been affected.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The safety of frontline staff has been a priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic.
“After being made aware of a defect with some Cardinal Health Type IIR surgical masks, we urgently issued advice last week to health and care providers to check if their stock included these masks and to dispose of them. The issue is now resolved”.