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THE government’s use of a so-called “VIP lane” to award millions of pounds’ worth of contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) was unlawful, the High Court ruled today.
The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor took legal action over nearly £600 million of contracts awarded to pest control firm PestFix and hedge fund Ayanda Capital during the first wave of the pandemic.
The court was told that the VIP lane was reserved for referrals from MPs, ministers and senior officials and that the government “prioritised suppliers including PestFix and Ayanda because of who they knew, not what they could deliver.”
In today’s judgment, Ms Justice O’Farrell said the use of the VIP lane, officially known as the high priority lane, was unlawful.
But she found both companies’ offers “justified priority treatment on [their] merits” and were “very likely” to have been awarded contracts even without the VIP lane.
EveryDoctor chief executive Dr Julia Grace Patterson said: “We brought the government to court because NHS staff and other front-line workers were woefully unsupported and unprotected by this government.
“Many were provided with no PPE, and many died. The government must never again be allowed to conduct themselves in this manner during a national healthcare crisis.”
Anti-privatisation campaigners welcomed the decision, with We Own It director Cat Hobbs warning that it “isn’t simply a case of a few bad actors.”
She said: “Our research shows the backdrop to this corruption is that the very NHS supply chain that is responsible for the procurement of PPE has itself been privatised.
“Decisions about the provision of vital PPE were being made by profit-seeking companies rather than the NHS itself, and there was a chaotic mishmash of providers involved who were taking a cut at every level.
“We need to end the scandal of privatisation in our NHS once and for all.”
Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr John Puntis said the finding that the contracts would have been awarded without the VIP lane “speaks volumes to the shoddy procurement methods used by government and its carelessness with both taxpayers’ money and NHS staff safety.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said that the ruling “may be just the tip of the iceberg” and called for a fully independent investigation.
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and a DHSC spokesperson both welcomed the judgment as a win as the use of the companies was “justified.”
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