The UK High Court has ruled that the Department of Health and Social Care’s use of politically connected suppliers to rapidly procure personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic was unlawful.
On Wednesday, the High Court ruled that the government had breached its obligations by giving politically connected suppliers contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPE).
In a ruling judge Mrs Justice O’Farrell said that the government was “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment,” adding “the illegality is marked by this judgment.”
Campaigners from the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor took the Department of Health and Social Care to court over allegations that the government had given VIP suppliers preferential access to contracts amid a panic to procure PPE at the start of the pandemic. Traditional and considered procurement methods were ditched as the National Health Service urgently needed PPE to prevent caregivers contracting and passing on the Covid-19 virus.
Bids for gowns, masks and gloves were passed to procurement officials by ministers, including then health secretary Matt Hancock, after companies directly approached their ministerial contacts. The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor claimed that companies including PestFix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital were prioritised “because of who they knew, not what they could deliver.” The former was awarded more than £340mn ($464mn) in contracts while the latter was given a contract worth around £252mn ($344mn).
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The court found that bids passed on by ministers and other officials were given “earlier consideration” than others submitted under the normal processes.
“The High Priority Lane Team was better resourced and able to respond to such offers on the same day that they arrived,” said the ruling.
The DHSC has rejected the claims, contending that the approached used garnered a “large number of credible offers” in an environment where negotiations for highly sought after PPE often failed within “minutes”.
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