The health secretary also appeared to deflect responsibility onto his officials, after a judge said the secrecy “breached legal obligations” over the spending of billions of taxpayers’ money.
Asked if he would resign, Mr Hancock replied: “No” – arguing it was “not true” to say he had refused to publish contracts, some of which went to friends of senior Tories.
Publication was “delayed by, on average, just over a fortnight”, he said, even “in the heat of the crisis” when the pandemic struck last year.
“That’s what the court found and I think any secretary of state in my position would absolutely back my officials in doing the right thing – saving lives,” Mr Hancock said.
“Some of the paperwork got a little bit delayed and I’m absolutely backing my team who did a phenomenal job in incredibly difficult circumstances.
“All these rules – we followed them absolutely with transparency,” he claimed on Sky News.
The government is required to publish all contracts with a value of more than £10,000 within 30 days of them being awarded.
But research showed that, by the beginning of October, the deals for only £2.68bn worth of around £15bn spent on buying personal protective equipment (PPE) had been released.
It highlighted contracts with Ayanda Capital (£252m), Clandeboye Agencies, a confectionary product firm (£108m) and Pestfix (£345m).
Companies offering to supply PPE were processed through a high priority “VIP lane” for referrals by MPs, peers and others with political connections, an inquiry found last year.
The court ruled that failure to publish the contracts breached the “vital public function” of transparency over the spending of “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money.
But Mr Hancock came out fighting, insisting the contracts had been published after, on average, 47 days – rather than the required 30.
“We published them just over a fortnight later than they should have been and there’s a reason for that – and the reason is that there was a global shortage of PPE and we needed to buy PPE to save lives.
“My officials, with my full support, spent every waking hour buying PPE so that even though we came close we never actually ran out of PPE in this country.”
And he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight.
“Or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line. You tell me that that is wrong. You can’t. And the reason you can’t is because it was the right thing to do.”