PPE Medpro, a provider of medical goods, has paved the way for a high-profile trial after it filed a robust defence in the High Court to a lawsuit from the UK government relating to the alleged breach of contract to supply £122mn of personal protective equipment.
The UK government launched legal proceedings last year against PPE Medpro over an alleged breach of contract relating to gowns delivered under a contract dated June 26 2020. Millions of surgical gowns were ultimately deemed unfit for purpose and were not distributed to the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Department of Health and Social Care’s lawsuit, filed in December, alleged that PPE Medpro provided 72 lots of gowns stamped with a CE mark, which verifies that a product has been assessed by an accredited body and is a legal requirement for products that need to be sterile. However, the lawsuit alleges that PPE Medpro did not include a number indicating which body had performed the accreditation.
It also stated that the gowns were single rather than double wrapped, in breach of requirements, and that they “could not be used within the NHS for any purpose”.
On Thursday, PPE Medpro filed its defence and counterclaim in the High Court in London 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.
“The defendant performed and executed the Contract as required. All allegations of breach are misconceived and are in any event denied,” PPE Medpro’s defence filed at the High Court claims.
“The said gowns complied in all respects with the Contract, specifically they were sterilised and compliant,” it said. “It is denied that the said gowns were not sterile when delivered.”
According to the UK government’s lawsuit, PPE Medpro provided a safety report from an accreditation company called Intertek, which the firm denied having issued.
PPE Medpro’s counterclaim conceded that it had incorrectly sent a draft document but alleged that it later sent a valid, certified report from Intertek. It also noted that the government does not allege in its claim “that any of the documentation produced by the defendant or on its behalf in relation to the contract was anything other than authentic”.
PPE Medpro also claims in its defence papers that there had been a “relaxation of the CE certification / accreditation rules which would ‘normally’ — absent the catastrophe of the Covid-19 pandemic — have applied”.
The government is seeking repayment of £122mn for the gowns, along with £11.6mn for costs incurred as part of the case.
PPE Medpro has been embroiled in an enduring scandal after reports that lingerie entrepreneur and Tory party peer Baroness Michelle Mone lobbied ministers using their personal email addresses to secure lucrative government contracts for the company linked to her husband.
Late last year, The Guardian and the Financial Times reported on bank documents that outlined how at least £65mn in profits from the company were sent to accounts that benefited Mone or her husband, Douglas Barrowman. Both Mone and Barrowman have previously denied any involvement with PPE Medpro.
The UK government has come under heavy criticism for awarding more than £13bn of contracts related to PPE procurement during the pandemic, with PPE Medpro one of the groups at the centre of the controversy.
Last year in a separate legal case, the High Court found that the UK government had acted unlawfully in operating a special VIP lane for potential suppliers of personal protective equipment that had links with politicians or government officials.
PPE Medpro said in a statement: “DHSC’s complaints have been contrived after the event, and are hollow. We produced all certifications for sterility when delivering the batches of gowns, showing a validated process for attaining the required level of sterility.”
It added: “We stand behind the quality of our gowns and our solutions. We are confident that our legal defence will demonstrate that the allegations made by DHSC are unfounded.”
DHSC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.