Former health minister defends VIP lane for PPE procurement saying ‘making money not a crime’

A Conservative former health minister said “making money is not a crime” as he defended the VIP lane for coronavirus-related contracts that saw some politically-connected firms make huge profits.

Lord Bethell (pictured) also blamed “longstanding” inequalities for the NHS not being sufficiently prepared for the pandemic.

He was speaking after former prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne rejected claims at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that their austerity measures left the UK exposed to the pandemic.

Medics and unions have argued the cuts to public services under their leadership between 2010 and 2016 depleted health and social care capacity.

Lord Bethell, who was health minister throughout much of the pandemic, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We didn’t have enough of that capacity, but we haven’t had for a very long time.

“It has been the British way to try to muddle through on health, with the slimmest, lowest-cost health system that we can have with a large amount of rationing and with a very, very low-cost public health and social care system.

“The Tories didn’t invent the inequalities in this country, they are longstanding.”

The Tory peer was challenged by presenter Mishal Husain over the awarding of contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) via the VIP lane, which gave preferential treatment to organisations referred by MPs and peers.

The Government has been accused of cronyism and failing to carry out due diligence in handing out contracts, which saw some companies make vast sums of money while millions was wasted on fraud and equipment not fit for use.

“There are bits of it that I find extremely distasteful, but it’s a fact of life, Mishal, that you need people who want to make lots of money to go and do entrepreneurial things,” Lord Bethell said.

“Making money itself is not a crime.”

He also said: “There was a massive scramble for resources everywhere in the world and we did everything that we could to get what was needed. I make no apology for that.”

The former minister admitted to making “micro-mistakes”, but said: “Overall I think our response was as good as we could have had under the circumstances.”

The first phase of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is examining whether the UK was sufficiently prepared for the pandemic.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary under Mr Cameron, and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will become the first serving Government ministers to appear before the inquiry on Wednesday.

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