Coronavirus: Government ‘has questions to answer’ after failing to fully pay Covid-19 test supplier

Exclusive: Hologic, a US-based medical technology company, is waiting on number of payments - some of which stretch back as far as April - for tests it has provided to the UK, The Independent understands

Samuel Lovett
Sunday 13 September 2020 12:29 BST
Figures within Hologic are said to be 'angered' by the payment delays
Figures within Hologic are said to be 'angered' by the payment delays (2020 Getty Images)

Labour has told the government that it has “questions to answer” after it emerged that a major Covid-19 test supplier is missing millions in payments from Whitehall.

The Independent understands that Hologic, a US-based medical technology company, is waiting on a significant portion of payments – some of which stretch back as far as April – for tests it has provided to the UK.

The firm has been involved with the country’s coronavirus response since the earliest stages of the pandemic and is seen as a reliable, trusted supplier.

It’s understood that the missing payments, which amount to “tens of millions of pounds”, relate to a number of orders for ‘Panther Fusion’ PCR tests placed by the UK government throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

Figures within Hologic are said to be “angered” by the delay, which has placed a strain on relations between the government and the US company, one source told The Independent.

The government, which did not deny the claim, maintains that it continues to have a positive working relationship with Hologic.

The failure to keep on top of supply payments raises questions about the government’s ability to deliver Operation Moonshot, the ambitious new mass testing programme, Labour said.

Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister, told The Independent: "Government has questions to answer on why they have missed payments – we can't afford to have further delays to the testing system after recent blunders.

“This is another example of ministers failing to deliver the basic testing that people need right now which we urgently need to sort ahead of the PM’s Moonshot aspirations."

Under Operation Moonshot, the government is hoping to roll out rapid-fire Covid-19 tests within the wider community that could provide a result in just 20 minutes.

No 10 is aiming to increase the UK’s testing capacity to 10 million tests a day, enabling people to be easily tested at home, in the office, and out in public.

One source close to Operation Moonshot, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admitted that there was “nowhere near enough” manufacturing capacity across the UK to supply the amount of tests needed to implement the programme.

“I don’t think it’s feasible,” they told The Independent. “It’s not going to be achievable given the numbers we’re looking at. We don’t have enough suppliers at the moment.”

Other Covid-19 test suppliers that have struck deals with the UK include Roche, Cepheid and Biomeriuex. The Independent understands there have been no payment delays with these three firms.

A spokesperson for the government said: “We have rapidly built the largest diagnostic industry in British history and our testing capacity is the highest it has ever been with over a million tests being processed a week.

“We continue to work closely with our commercial testing partners, including processing payments.”

Hologic has not responded to The Independent’s request for comment.

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