UK Government in court over PPE

Next week, EveryDoctor and the Good Law Project will take hold the UK Government to account over their failings on PPE, a case that’s had very little press coverage. Tannice Hemming looks at the story so far.

Many of us were simply horrified in the earliest days of the pandemic when we discovered the extent of the problem with PPE. We heard of doctors reusing protective equipment and fashioning aprons out of whatever they could find – bin bags became aprons and those with their own sewing machines leapt to action in cottage industry across the country to make scrubs. 

Set up in 2019, Every Doctor states it is “A doctor-led non-profit campaigning organisation, advocating for NHS staff and patients” and is run by Dr Julia Patterson, (a doctor who has currently paused her practice and training), alongside 7 other doctors, with varied backgrounds and skills. However, it is Patterson who has the highest profile, taking on the promotion via social media on Twitter, where she has approaching 150,000 followers.

EveryDoctor started as a Facebook group for doctors, known as The Political Mess, which currently has around 25,000 doctors in it. 

“This forum exists to draw light into the dark areas; to talk about difficult topics which are challenging for UK doctors, and to tackle those situations through collective advocacy work with politicians and the national media (channelled through the work of EveryDoctor). It is a unique space.”

On their website, they say they’ve had 2,260 press mentions and have hosted 22 MP briefings in the last year. They are running the #ProtectNHSWorkers pledge, of which 104 MPs have signed up. The pledge reads:

I pledge to #ProtectNHSworkers by giving them the support and protection they need to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. To do this, I commit to these five demands: 

  1. Readily available healthcare worker testing 
  2. Personal protective equipment for all healthcare workers in line with WHO standards
  3. Death-in-service benefits for all NHS staff
  4. Sick pay for locum healthcare workers
  5. Hospital accommodation for those living with vulnerable people 

EveryDoctor soon came to the attention of Jolyon Maugham of the Good Law Project, who emailed Patterson about taking the government to court about their procurement of PPE. Specifically, Maugham wanted to examine and prosecute on the basis of PPE deals given to recipients who appear ill-equipped and inappropriate to take on such an important job in the fight against Covid. This seemed like the perfect pairing and Every Doctor and the Good Law Project have worked tirelessly on the project together to hold the government to account.

A total of four cases have subsequently developed and lawyers working on the projects soon discovered that there was what they called a “VIP lane” for those with personal connections. In their first appearance in court, they won the right to ask for evidence on exactly who made the decisions to award the PPE contracts, as well as exactly who the VIPs were, too.  The documents the court had received were heavily redacted, with key names obscured. The judge also ruled that the government must pay their costs in taking the government to court. 

Hancock was compelled by the court to disclose the communications over text and WhatsApp that lead to procurement opportunities being snapped up by those in the know, in the VIP lane. Jason Coppel QC, working for the Good Law Project, criticised the government for their “obvious lack of transparency” whereas the defence barrister, Michael Bowsher QC, disputed the claims, suggesting that the prosecution wished to increase the costs of the court case and “fish for additional material”. 

It’s clear that these cases, however they resolve, are just the first steps to really determining what happened within government when crucial decision-making was happening. With the announcement that an enquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic will commence in Spring 2022, it really can’t come soon enough so we can have some sort of justice for those whose deaths were preventable. 

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