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Case update 15 December 2021

Revealed: Government bullied safety watchdog over PPE supplied by ‘VIPs’

PPE supplied by high profile VIPs has repeatedly been cleared for use by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), overruling concerns of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) that it is not fit for purpose.

Good Law Project challenged the award of £108m of PPE contracts to Clandeboye, a confectionery wholesaler. Clandeboye does not appear on the DHSC’s list of VIPs but Government’s internal documents tell a different story.

What DHSC told the High Court was that: “Clandeboye answered the call to arms by making a viable offer and performing its contracts” and had been “approved in testing upon arrival”.

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However, emails obtained by the BBC show the [HSE] saying: “The outer packaging for these aprons indicates that they are fluid repellent gowns, which they are not… they are not Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and do not meet the requirements of the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (EU) 2016/425.” Nevertheless, after months of email correspondence the DHSC issued a notice authorising their use.

The BBC’s report – which you can watch here – also shows that large quantities of Clandeboye’s aprons were offloaded on ebay and other auctioneers for a tiny fraction of the price paid by DHSC.

Good Law Project has written asking Government to explain how it has adhered to its duties of candour and not to mislead the High Court.

This is not the first occasion on which DHSC has put the HSE under pressure to ‘clear’ for use PPE supplied by VIPs under contracts Good Law Project is challenging.

Good Law Project is also challenging the award of £349 million of PPE contracts to “VIP” Crisp Websites Limited, trading as “Pestfix”, a then tiny pest control specialist. 

Emails after those proceedings were issued show the HSE complaining that the DHSC was “bombarding” it with requests to provide a statement that was “not factually accurate”. The HSE was sufficiently concerned that it sought legal advice on its position. An email Government contractor talks of there being “quite a bit of ‘political’ pressure to get Pestfix products through the QA [Quality Assurance] process.”

And then there is P14 Medical. 

P14 Medical was run by ex-Tory Councillor Steve Dechan and won a £116m contract to supply face shields through the Government’s VIP lane. The contract received extensive coverage in the national press. 

Emails obtained by Good Law Project show that DHSC stepped in to approve the face shields for use despite the HSE warning in September 2020 that key documentation and certification was missing.

The Times reported that the HSE raised concerns about whether face shields supplied by P14 Medical met required standards. HSE wrote to officials saying the shields “cannot enter the NHS supply chain” because of “inconsistencies” in the documentation P14 had supplied. These included certificates that were “out of date” and applied to different companies and products, such as a “packaging firm” and “beauty products”. HSE said the testing laboratory used to verify the safety of the shields was “not an accredited laboratory” either’.

Despite those concerns, the DHSC overruled the HSE and approved the face shields for use in February of this year.

A spokesperson for P14 Medical said they are: “an expert company that has been in medical supplies for eight years including PPE that managed to deliver on a big contract that ‘big companies’ could not. They provided the equipment to the government when it was needed, on time and in accordance with the specified requirements”. 

A HSE spokesperson said: “HSE’s round-the-clock advice and assurance to health services at the height of PPE supply shortages was rooted in science and experience, not just the regulations. It was as a result of our checks that we caught a lot of PPE that wasn’t safe and wouldn’t have protected people” and denied that it had been put under political pressure.

DHSC did not respond to requests for comment.

There are serious questions to answer. Why has DHSC overruled the HSE to get hundreds of millions of pounds of PPE supplied by high profile VIPs, including those whose contracts are being challenged in court, into the supply chain? Are they putting politics before public health?

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