Turkey’s Selegna blames delays to UK gown order on late go-ahead

The Turkish supplier of the UK’s bungled order for 400,000 protective gowns has rejected claims that it was to blame for the fiasco, insisting that a late confirmation rendered the tight timetable proposed by British ministers impossible.

Mehmet Duzen, who has been co-ordinating the shipment from the Istanbul-based company Selegna, said that it was not until Friday last week that he received the final go-ahead for an order that British ministers were claiming would arrive in the UK on Sunday. UK government officials on Friday said it placed the order last Thursday and paid a deposit the next day.

“If it was a normal order, I would have cancelled it,” Mr Duzen said. “Because there was a misunderstanding and there was no time. How could I supply the goods in one night?”

He dismissed claims by those involved in the crisis talks that Selegna was at fault for failing to secure a strict controls licence to export medical equipment. He said the Turkish health ministry had placed strict controls on all exporters of medical goods as it sought to preserve national supplies of masks and other key products.

His company had worked closely with Turkish and British officials and secured a licence on Sunday night, he said.

Mr Duzen shed light on the British procurement process and the global race to produce personal protective equipment as countries desperately seek to source vital supplies to protect their medical staff against coronavirus.

Selegna, whose slogan is “more than expected”, was established just four months ago by Mr Duzen’s sister. The plan was for it to be a sourcing company and supplier of project finance, working with producers of ready-to-wear fashion and electronics.

coronavirus outbreak gripped China. Factories that were previously producing shirts, suits and tracksuits were tasked with churning out medical gowns and protective suits. A former confectionery factory began producing masks.

Mr Duzen, a former parliamentary candidate for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party who lived in London in the 2000s, said he emailed the UK government a few weeks ago after seeing a callout for supplies.

According to Mr Duzen, Selegna began discussing an order for 400,000 gowns with officials the week before last. But final confirmation didn’t come through until last Friday — just before the start of a stringent weekend lockdown in all of Turkey’s largest provinces.

The restrictions forced Selegna to scramble to find alternative producers in Istanbul rather than turning to the usual 12 subcontractors it works with across the country, he said.

Back in Britain Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, used a press conference on Saturday to announce that “a very large consignment” of protective equipment would arrive from Turkey the following day — including Selegna’s 400,000 gowns.

Behind the scenes, however, frantic conference calls were taking place between the company and officials from Turkey and Britain as they sought to overcome the obstacles. “We didn’t sleep,” Mr Duzen said. 

On Monday, as the fate of the shipment dominated the UK headlines, the RAF dispatched a military transport plane to Istanbul in an effort to apply pressure. “This was pre-positioning,” one defence official said. “We wanted to make clear that we were ready and waiting for the material.”

A Whitehall official likened the plane’s readiness to arranging a drug deal. “You want the car boot open for when the gear arrives,” the official said.

With the RAF plane sitting on the tarmac and the Selegna shipment only partially ready, the Turkish government stepped in to help Britain save face, ordering Ushas, a state-owned health company, to dispatch some supplies so that the military plane could return home.

Still, the Health Service Journal reported that only 32,000 gowns were on the first flight — enough to sustain the NHS for just a few hours.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Thursday afternoon, Mr Duzen said the company had fulfilled most of its order, with about 300,000 gowns already handed over to private couriers who were managing the logistics.

Two more RAF planes flew to Istanbul on Thursday and returned on Thursday evening and early Friday morning, both loaded with PPE supplies.

One British official said that it was hoped that Selegna may become a regular supplier. Mr Duzen said the company was discussing future orders with the UK.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said on Friday: “This was a new supplier and they experienced manufacturing issues. We are not reliant on any one supplier for gowns and we have suppliers in the UK and overseas — including gowns delivered from Myanmar this week and they on their way to healthcare workers.”

A Whitehall official insisted that “proper due diligence” had been done on all suppliers, adding that the strains of the past seven days starkly illustrated “how difficult it is to get this equipment and how many moving pieces there are in the international market”.

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