Northern Ireland healthcare firm Randox has hit back at suggestions it was awarded a £133million contract to produce coronavirus testing kits without any other companies being given the opportunity to bid for the work.
The Guardian newspaper reported the Co Antrim business had seen details of a contract awarded by UK's Department of Health “without prior publication of a call for competition”.
The firm was founded by Northern Ireland doctor Peter FitzGerald and was awarded the contract last month under fast-track arrangements that enable public bodies to give out contracts without asking other firms to bid for them.
Randox employs Conservative politician and former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson as a paid consultant. Mr Paterson, an MP for North Shropshire has been employed by it since 2015 and is paid £100,000 a year.
He did not respond to our request for comment.
A spokesperson for Randox said: "It should be noted that Randox is only one partner within a multi-partner, national testing programme.
"The programme is being run and coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care and they would be best placed to comment on the overall programme."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the UK Department of Health said: "The speed at which we have increased our testing capacity is unprecedented and a real success made possible by teamwork between the Government and key partners.
"In a matter of weeks we have engineered the largest ever expansion of British diagnostic capability - scaling up a nationwide network of drive-in testing sites, introducing home testing, deploying mobile testing units operated by Armed Forces personnel, building three new ‘mega labs’ to analyse test samples, and more than doubling the capacity of the NHS and Public Health England laboratories."
Under the new contract, Randox will carry out tests, which will be posted to homes and administered at testing centres in an aim to carry out 100,000 tests a day pledged by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
The firm has said it intended to recruit mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineers to work on developing ways of detecting whether people had been infected.