The government is being forced to burn some £4bn-worth of personal protective equipment (PPE), in what has been branded “perhaps the most shameful episode of the pandemic”.

A damning cross-party report by the Public Accounts Committee found that the Department for Health and Social Care lost 75 per cent of the £12bn it purchased on highly-inadequate and grossly-inflated PPE for frontline workers.

Of the £9bn wasted by officials, £4bn will now have to be recycled or incinerated. Dame Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, wrote: “The costs and environmental impact of disposing of the excess and unusable PPE is unclear.”

The Labour MP said that the government’s “haphazard purchasing strategy” overwhelmed the National Health Service and “exposed weaknesses in the department’s commercial contracting capability”.

She added: “In a desperate bid to catch up the government splurged huge amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush during which they chucked out even the most cursory due diligence.

“This has left us with massive public contracts now under investigation by the National Crime Agency or in dispute because of allegations of modern slavery in the supply chain.”

Her report comes after the High Court ruled that the “high priority lane” to help “VIPs” win lucrative procurement contracts for PPE were unlawful.

Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, described the findings as “galling”, while Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the episode represents “the shameful and toxic waste of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives”.

The official inquiry into the government’s performance during lockdown has not even started, but the government’s shortfalls are already floating to the surface.