The Department for Health and Social Care has begun legal action to recover £122m paid to personal protective equipment supplier PPE Medpro for sterile surgical gowns in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
PPE Medpro, which has offices in central London, was awarded two contracts through the government’s “VIP lane”, which allowed MPs and peers to recommend providers in 2020’s scramble to build up reserves of equipment.
The firm was proposed by Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone, who this month announced that she would take a leave of absence from the House of Lords following allegations she had financially benefited from PPE Medpro’s work.
The 25 million sterile surgical gowns supplied by PPE Medpro are said to have been rejected by officials after they arrived at an NHS depot in Northamptonshire.
DHSC is also understood to be seeking to recover the costs of storing and disposing of the gowns as part of its legal bid.
“We can confirm that we have commenced legal proceedings in the high court against PPE Medpro Limited for breach of contract regarding gowns delivered under a contract dated 26 June 2020,” a DHSC spokesperson told the Guardian.
“We do not comment on matters that are the subject of ongoing legal proceedings.”
PPE Medpro said in a statement given to the Guardian that it would “rigorously” defend the legal action, adding that its gowns “passed quality inspection in China”.
It accused DHSC of a “cynical” effort to recoup its money because it had seriously over-ordered PPE.
“When manufactured, the goods passed quality inspection in China and then PPE Medpro was paid in full,” it said.
Mone and husband Douglas Barrowman have repeatedly denied being involved with PPE Medpro.
In January this year the High Court said that the government’s VIP lane for PPE suppliers – also known as the “high priority lane” – was unlawful.
In its judgement, the court found that the government prioritised bids on a "flawed basis" and considered some firms as high priority "even where there were no objectively justifiable grounds for expediting the offer”.