A neighbor of UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is being investigated by the country's medicine agency, The Guardian reported without citing its sources. The company of Alex Bourne, who previously ran a pub near Hancock's old constituency, received a $42 million contract for the supply of vials for coronavirus tests. According to The Guardian, prior to the contract, the company Hinpack had no experience in medical devices. Before the pandemic it produced plastic cups and takeaway boxes for catering.
The newspaper said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed it had launched an investigation into Hinpack.
"We take all reports of non-compliance very seriously", said Graeme Tunbridge, director of devices at MHRA. "We are currently investigating allegations about Hinpack and will take appropriate action as necessary. Patient safety is our top priority".
The Guardian writes that the investigation was launched after council employees in South Cambridgeshire, where Hinpack's production site is located, informed the MHRA about violations reported to them. Sources told the newspaper that for several months the company's employees had no permanent toilets or access to running water. In addition, they disregarded hygiene protocols when entering the facility. In particular, they failed to change in and out of protective clothing when taking breaks.
Alex Bourne's lawyers said all the allegations made against the company are untrue and alleged that they had been made maliciously. In a statement released trough his lawyers, Bourne said he was not aware of the investigation and had not been contacted by MHRA.
'I Had Absolutely Nothing to do With That Contract'
This is not the first time that Alex Bourne's relationship with the country's health secretary has come under scrutiny. When UK media outlets revealed last November that Bourne's company received a multimillion dollar contract his lawyers dismissed speculation that he had any discussion with the health secretary before the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) decided which company should be awarded the contract.
Bourne himself, however, later made a U-turn and told The Guardian that he exchanged messages with Matt Hancock via WhatsApp for several months. He said he offered his services when the pandemic started. At the same time, he emphasised that "there is no evidence" that he received preferential treatment.
His lawyers brushed off allegations that Bourne's company had no experience in producing medical devices. They said the production involved a partner company that has relevant experience and hired qualified experts. They also stressed that the tubes Hinpack produces for coronavirus tests are "by no means complicated and are well within our client's existing skillset".
When the secretary was pressed by reporters about his ties with Bourne, Matt Hancock said the following:
"I had absolutely nothing to do with that contract".
The DHSC refused to comment on Secretary Hancock's relationship with Bourne.
Earlier this month, an image went viral showing a photo of Bourne's old pub on the wall of Hancock's room where he gives live TV interviews.
The MHRA investigation is likely to add additional pressure on the health secretary, who has already faced a barrage of criticism after the High Court ruled that his department acted unlawfully when it didn't disclose the details of contracts on the purchase of personal protective equipment for medical staff during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.