The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor claim that the Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) illegally awarded contracts worth more than £ 700million to supply PPE during the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaign groups have taken legal action over contracts awarded to pest control company PestFix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital.
They argue that millions of pounds of equipment, which was “unnecessary for the NHS”, was purchased in April and May 2020 without proper technical checks, at inflated prices, as a result of contracts provided through a “VIP channel” .
“The result of all of this has been a truly tragic waste of public money,” Jason Coppel QC, for groups, told court last week.
Mr Coppel said the VIP lane was for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials, adding that DHSC “then prioritized vendors including PestFix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not of what they could deliver “.
“ Much more to come ”
Speaking to the PA News Agency on Tuesday as the High Court case wrapped up, the founder of the Good Law Project, Jolyon Maugham QC, said he was “incredibly proud” to have worn the matter to the attention of the public.
“It was really only because we were in this litigation that we found out about the VIP lane,” Maugham said.
He added: “I think we once lived in a country where we thought politicians could be relied on to be honest and serve the public interest. I don’t think we could count on politicians to do that. that. “
Mr Maugham said there would be “a lot more to come” in cases against the government, adding: “This is only the beginning”.
During the 5-day hearing, the groups argued that “well over half” of the roughly £ 595million spent with PestFix and Ayanda Capital was “wasted” on PPE that did not meet technical standards of use in the NHS.
“These are vast sums of public money, money being withheld from doctors and nurses who have made huge sacrifices for the rest of us in the pandemic … but the politically well connected are. , we show again and again, making great fortunes, ”Mr. Maugham said.
The High Court ruled in March that the government illegally failed to release details of more than 500 coronavirus-related contracts within the deadline, following a separate case brought by the Good Law Project.
The group has also taken action against NHS England over delays in healthcare for transgender people and are challenging the government’s decision to award a survey contract to a company with alleged links to former adviser Dominic Cummings .
“Any of these stories that the Good Law Project broke would have resulted in a ministerial resignation in the past,” Maugham said. “Now it looks like there is nothing a minister can do to get him fired.”
He added: “I don’t really want to sound like a boring political activist. This stuff goes beyond politics.
“It’s not about who’s in power, it’s about good and bad. And I’m afraid the current culture doesn’t seem to have sufficient interest in what good and bad looks like.”
DHSC “wholeheartedly dismisses” the PPE contract case against it, with attorney Michael Bowsher QC telling the High Court this week that the government “has put in place an unprecedented, large-scale program at a commendable speed, during a severe crisis “, when the PPE market had been” fundamentally reshaped “by the pandemic.
He also said the VIP route was rational and resulted in a “large number of credible offers”.
The court heard that the program involved the acquisition of 14 billion pounds of PPE from more than 1,000 contracts.
“It’s really hard to imagine that kind of government procurement being done during this time,” Bowsher said.
The attorney said DHSC’s actions were a rational response to the pandemic, telling the court: “Urgent action was needed and the importance was to save lives and protect those caring for those infected with the COVID-19. “
Mr Bowsher then underlined the urgency of the situation at the start of the pandemic, with agreements capable of bending in “a few minutes”.
In a statement at the start of the proceedings, the DHSC said: “This was a huge intergovernmental effort, drawing on the expertise of a number of departments as well as the fantastic support from military partners and from the private sector.
“The officials worked day and night to secure these contracts. We prioritized procurement and we make no apologies.”
The case before Madam Justice O’Farrell ended on Tuesday afternoon and the judge said she would deliver her written judgment at a later date.
This article contains information from PA Media.