Abingdon Health: A cover-up

by Good Law Project

Abingdon Health: A cover-up

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
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Latest: Dec. 22, 2020

They're trying to rewrite history

So much, so very much, is wrong with the Government’s decision to contract with Abingdon Health.

As we understand matters, Government gave, without competition, substantial public contracts to d…

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The Government suppressed an official report that proved there were issues with rapid antibody tests purchased by the Department of Health. Leaked emails reveal the Government blocked Public Health England from publishing their findings until after they could make an announcement that they had purchased one million antibody tests from Abingdon Health.

How did we end up with a Government minister claiming publicly that he is “thrilled by the RTC product, both for Britain and export markets around the world”, whilst at the same time sitting on an damning expert report?  

The purchase of one million antibody tests from Abingdon Health has been shrouded in mystery, but what we do know lays bare serious failings in Government procurement.

The Government supported the creation of the UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC) back in April. The idea was that the companies and institutions involved, including Abingdon Health, would create a rapid antibody test. On 2nd June, Government awarded a contract worth £10million to Abingdon Health for the materials needed to produce the test. On 14th August, they handed Abingdon Health another contract worth a staggering £75million.

Despite these huge sums of money, Government seems to have ignored widely held concerns that these tests were not fit for purpose. So a £75million contract was awarded without competition, on the basis of profoundly flawed research. And when confronted with evidence of these flaws Government tried to suppress publication of that evidence.

These are serious charges and we have set out the publicly available evidence in this chronology, which we will update as more evidence is published.

To protect public money and to seek to encourage Government towards honesty, we have issued judicial review proceedings in respect of the Abingdon Health contract awards. Our case rests on the following grounds:

  • Government’s apparent failure to conduct any lawful or sufficient inquiry or evaluation of the accuracy of the rapid antibody tests.

  • The award of these contracts seemingly without any advertisement or competition between bidders

The details:
Good Law Project has instructed Joseph Barrett of 11KBW Chambers and Rook Irwin Sweeney. They will work considerably below market rates. 10% of the funds raised will be a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. We will use any surplus to develop other litigation.

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Update 1

Good Law Project

Dec. 22, 2020

They're trying to rewrite history

So much, so very much, is wrong with the Government’s decision to contract with Abingdon Health.

As we understand matters, Government gave, without competition, substantial public contracts to develop Covid-19 antibody tests to a company which had no tests, ignoring established operators. We believe these contracts were worth £85m but it’s proving hard to pin Government down. Government took a cut of the revenues from the tests, which didn’t do what they were supposed to, and Government has – there’s no polite way to put this – lied about what it did.

The detail of those allegations is contained in our detailed grounds and my witness statement. They make for startling reading – and I encourage you to read them. But we want to focus here on what looks to me like Government’s stark attempt to rewrite history.

The Government’s National Testing Strategy has five “pillars”. Pillar 3 is described as “Mass-antibody testing to help determine if people have immunity to coronavirus.” And Pillar 4 is “Surveillance testing to learn more about the disease and help develop new tests and treatments.” 

On 8 April 2020 Government put out a Press Release which stated:

A business consortium, UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC), including Oxford University, Abingdon Health, BBI Solutions and CIGA Healthcare has launched, in order to design and develop a new antibody test to determine whether people have developed immunity after contracting the virus.

Government then issued two “contract award notices” announcing spending with Abingdon. The first, giving a figure of £10.3m, was in respect of an award of 2 June 2020 and said:

Provision of components and materials for lateral flow test kits for Covid-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing.

The second, on 14 August, giving a figure of £75m, you can see here and it says:

Provision of lateral flow test kits for COVID-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing.

However, a Government press release of 6 October announcing the purchase of 1 million tests from Abingdon said:

British-made antibody testing kits will support nationwide surveillance studies to track the spread of COVID-19 in the population.

Which is pillar 4. The reasons for that after the event switcheroo are likely to be that the test was not as accurate as key Government advisors had previously indicated, a fact that was both anticipated, and which Government had sought to suppress.

But here’s the bad bit.

On 12 November 2020, Abingdon Health issued a press release which contained a statement from the Department for Health in the following terms:

This report shows these tests are approved for use in surveillance studies, which is what they were purchased for.”

They were never intended for, and have never been issued for widespread public use and it is misleading and unnecessarily inflammatory to purposefully ignore this fact in the report.

It might be convenient to try and rewrite history. It might suit both Abingdon and Government to pretend that the tests purchased were not antibody tests under Pillar 3. It might spare both sides’ embarrassment. It might be convenient – but the facts show it isn’t true.

As I say, please read our detailed grounds and my witness statement. This is by no means the only extraordinary feature of the Abingdon Health story. 

Jo Maugham

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