THOUSANDS of masks have had to be destroyed by Scottish health boards after they were found to be disintegrating and a health hazard.

The masks, which are understood to be more than a decade old, were sent to frontline staff in March.

However the devices were recalled earlier this month after it was found that parts were flaking off into doctors’ mouths and noses.

The vital supplies had been queried by doctors after they first received them at the start of the pandemic, when they found stickers showing expiry dates of 2021 stuck over original expiries of 2016.

The Herald understands the masks were part of a UK-wide national PPE stockpile from 2009 - making them more than a decade old by the time they were shipped to frontline workers tackling coronavirus.

It is also understood that the masks were re-tested in 2013 and 2014 before the expiry date was extended. Cardinal Health, the mask manufacturers, confirmed that they had not distributed the masks since 2010 and a subsidiary, Medline, had taken over their handling thereafter.

Anas Sarwar, Labour MSP for Glasgow, previously questioned the expired masks with Jeane Freeman at Holyrood.

He said: “Doctors have been sent in to battle with unsafe equipment and it’s scandalous that health workers were put at risk like that. Ministers must urgently step in, stop the spin, and get our hero workers the resources they need.

“The Scottish Government needs to start listening to the evidence nures and other from health workers. I have raised this twice, and was assured the situation had been resolved. That clearly wasn’t the case and doctors were right to raise concerns.

Miles Briggs MSP, Scottish Conservatives health spokesman said the incident was “shambolic” and added: “Despite a number of assurances given to me and other MSPs by Nicola Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman that these masks were safe ,we now find out that they are disintegrating and are a health hazard.

“It’s time for full transparency. I have been calling for a proper investigation into SNP ministers’ handling of the pandemic and this latest scandal must be fully investigated. Our NHS professionals have gone above and beyond during this pandemic. The very least they should have expected is for ministers to protect them and make sure PPE was safe.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was asked about the masks originally in March, and told MSPs: “The supplies that have been issued to GPs have been issued according to Health Protection Scotland guidance in terms of the nature of those supplies; the masks, the goggles, aprons and so on.”

When asked specifically about the out of date masks on March 17, Ms Freeman said: “We are aware of the particular circumstance... We are taking steps with the health boards to ensure resupply and that the situation is not repeated.

“GPs have been contacted so that they know that that is under way and so that they can be reassured.

“As I said, my requirement is that all our general practices receive the supplies that they need, and that those supplies are fit for purpose.”

It is understood medics were advised the masks were fit for purpose at the time, and only discovered the advice had changed when they received an email on June 2 telling them to “quarantine and dispose of” the masks.

In one email sent to GPs in one Scottish health board, it said: “We have been informed that masks were issued from UK stock in January 2020, through to early April 2020...and were included in some deliveries to GP practices.

“Can all GP practices quarantine and dispose of these locally if they have any remaining stock.”

An alert issued by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency on June 26 stated: “There is a risk to staff wearing the mask if the foam strip on the mask flakes and enters their airway or mouth. There have also been complaints of the ties and/or stitching coming away from the mask.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “PPE which has been issued to NHS Boards must meet appropriate standards, and it will be withdrawn if it does not.

“The shelf life of these masks was extended in March as they were tested as safe to use.

"They have, more recently, failed re-testing and, in line with normal procedure, therefore, a UK-wide alert was issued 26 June. These masks will not now be used and will be safely disposed of.”