Taxpayers are paying about £3.2 million a year to cover the cost of storing millions of “sterile gowns” which were bought by the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic and are now at the centre of a High Court fight, a judge has been told.

Lawyers representing Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins on Thursday indicated, at a High Court hearing in London, that the total storage bill had topped £10 million.

They told Mr Justice Bright the total spent on storage by the end of 2022 was about £6.9 million.

Mr Justice Bright was given figures while overseeing a pre-trial hearing in a £130 million damages dispute centred on the supply of personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

PPE legal claim
Baroness Michelle Mone has been linked to the company involved in the row (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Government has sued PPE Medpro – the firm which supplied the gowns.

PPE Medpro, which has been at the centre of a Westminster controversy following allegations linking Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone to the company, is fighting the case.

Reports, denied by Lady Mone, have suggested she may have profited from the firm winning contracts worth more than £200 million.

News of the dispute emerged a year ago.

Government lawyers have said more than £130 million damages are being claimed.

PPE Medpro has said the claim will be “rigorously defended”.

Barrister Paul Stanley KC, who led the Health Secretary’s legal team at Thursday’s hearing, told Mr Justice Bright, in a written case outline, that in June 2020 a contract had been concluded.

He said the contract meant that PPE Medpro would sell the health department “25 million sterile gowns”.

Mr Stanley said the health department was claiming that the gowns, which were “manufactured and sterilised” in China, were “not sterile when delivered”.

He said the health department had tested a “sample of gowns” and told the judge: “They failed dismally.”

Mr Stanley said PPE Medpro was suggesting that the gowns tested were “contaminated on the journey from Chins”, or “while stored in the UK”, or that “the testing was not done properly”.

He indicated that a judge would probably hear evidence at trial lasting more than two weeks.

Mr Stanley said one issue related to how many gowns needed to be “retained for the purposes of the case”.

He said a judge may have to “grapple” with that issue if an agreement could not be reached.

Mr Stanley said the health department – “and therefore the public purse” – was continuing to “incur costs of storing” the gowns.

“The cost of storage costs of the Medpro gowns is approximately £3.2 million per year, totalling some £6.9 million as at December 2022,” he said.

“The Department of Health and Social Care is naturally keen to begin orderly disposal of the gowns, both to mitigate its loss and minimise ongoing cost to the taxpayer, but it recognises that it must do that in a manner that is consistent with its obligation to ensure the fair determination of its claim.”

In July, a cross-party committee of MPs found the Government’s high-risk dash to purchase PPE during the pandemic resembled “panic buying”.

The Public Accounts Committee said a “rushed” approach led to “many risky contacts” and resulted in £9 billion being written off.

A committee report said officials had to work at a “very fast pace in extraordinary circumstances” to procure essential equipment.

Officials had “insufficient time and resources to reflect properly on each offer”, with the sudden pressure causing them to “accept very high levels of risk”, the report said.

The committee was unable to “comprehensively conclude” that emails from Lady Mone led to PPE Medpro being treated differently by the Government.

Reports, denied by Lady Mone, suggested the peer may have profited from the firm winning contracts worth more than £200 million.

The judge heard that PPE Medpro had filed a counterclaim.

“This is a high-profile case which has garnered considerable media attention; and more so, now, in light of the ongoing UK Covid-19 Inquiry,” barrister Charles Samek KC, who led PPE Medpro’s legal team, told the judge, in a written case outline.

He said: “It goes without saying that, as is evident from the substantial defence and counterclaim  served on behalf of PPE Medpro, PPE Medpro wholly rejects the claims made by (the Government).”

Lawyers said any trial was unlikely to be staged before 2025.