PPE Medpro, a supplier of medical goods, submitted a defence last week in the High Court to the UK government's lawsuit involving £122 million worth of medical gowns.
The Government Lawsuit
In December 2022, the UK government sued PPE Medpro for breach of contract in relation to the supply of 25 million sterile surgical gowns delivered by it under a contract dated 26 June 2020. The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) lawsuit alleges that the gowns "did not comply with the specification in the contract". For example, it states that the gowns were single rather than double wrapped, in breach of requirements and that PPE Medpro had failed to provide certification to establish that the gowns had been reliably sterilised for medical use. As a result of these breaches, millions of surgical gowns were deemed unfit for purpose and were not distributed to the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic. The DHSC is also seeking to recover a further £11.6 million for costs incurred as part of the case. This includes the significant costs of storing and disposing of the unfit gowns.
PPE Medpro Defence
Lat week, PPE Medpro filed its defence, stating that the gowns supplied “were in accordance with the contract” and that there was no clear stipulation that they needed to be double wrapped. PPE Medpro stated further that "the said gowns complied in all respects with the contract" and denied the allegation that the gowns were not sterile when delivered.
PPE Medpro have been at the centre of a scandal having received more than £200 million of government Covid contracts after Tory party peer Baroness Michelle Mone lobbied ministers using their personal email addresses to secure these lucrative government contracts. Although Mone has denied having any relationship with the company, The Guardian and the Financial Times reported last year on bank documents that outlined how at least £65 million in profits from the company were sent to accounts that benefited Mone or her husband, Douglas Barrowman. PPE Medpro is currently under investigation from the National Crime Agency.
The UK government has also come under heavy criticism for the way it awarded more than £13 billion of contracts related to PPE procurement during the pandemic. Last year, the High Court ruled that the government’s operation of a "VIP lane" for suppliers of personal protective equipment was illegal and "in breach of the obligation of equal treatment". The "VIP lane" prioritised contracts for companies recommended by MPs, peers and other politically connected people.
VIP lane offers were treated with greater urgency and were 10 times more likely to result in contracts than offers being made outside this route.