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Planning and governance of COVID-19 procurements to increase the National Medical Stockpile

COVID-19 Government procurement Pandemics Pharmaceuticals Governance Medicine Public health Australia

Since its emergence in late 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic that is impacting on human health and national economies. From February 2020 the Australian Government commenced the introduction of a range of policies and measures in response to the emergence of COVID-19 that included:

  • travel restrictions and international border control and quarantine arrangements;
  • delivery of substantial economic stimulus, including financial support for affected individuals, businesses and communities; and
  • support for essential services and procurement of critical medical supplies.

The National Medical Stockpile (NMS) is a reserve of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, antidotes and personal protective equipment (PPE) for use during the national response to a public health emergency that could arise from natural causes or terrorist activities. It is meant to supplement state and territory supplies in a health emergency. Between 3 March and 1 May 2020 $3.23 billion in funding was provided to the Australian Government Department of Health (Health) to procure medical supplies, namely PPE and medical equipment, for the NMS. Procurement activity peaked in April 2020, with the last contract for NMS supplies prior to 31 August 2020 entered into on 14 August 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the pace and scale of the Australian Government’s response impacts on the risk environment faced by the Australian public sector. This audit is one of five performance audits conducted under phase one of the ANAO’s multi-year strategy that will focus on the effective, efficient, economical and ethical delivery of the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The audit examined whether the COVID-19 NMS procurement requirement was met through effective planning and governance arrangements.

Main conclusions:

  • The COVID-19 NMS procurement requirement for PPE and medical equipment was met or exceeded. Elements of Health’s procurement planning for the NMS could be improved.
  • Health’s pre-pandemic procurement planning for the NMS was partially effective. Procurement planning was partially risk-based. Agreement with states and territories about stockpiling responsibilities was not documented and stockpile information was not adequately shared. There were no protocols for emergency procurements.


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Auditor-General Report No.22 2020–21