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Manufacturers cast doubt on ventilator target

BBC Technology 29 Mar 2020 03:15
By Simon Jack Business editor
Doctor uses ventilatorImage copyright Getty Images

The UK may not have all the ventilators it needs by the time coronavirus cases in the country reach their peak, engineering firms warned.

Health officials expect the UK to experience its highest number of infections in around two weeks' time.

The UK has just over 8,000 ventilators, significantly fewer than the 30,000 the government estimates are needed to cope with the fallout from the peak.

Manufacturers told the BBC they cannot produce enough to meet that deadline.

However, one firm involved in the plans to produce the life-saving machines, said that by early May the country would be "in a much better position".

There is widespread uncertainty within government and industry about how many ventilators it is possible to produce, which firms can make them and by when.

Image copyright Dyson

Another consortium including engineering firms Airbus, GKN, Rolls Royce, Megitt and others are working on ramping up production of a simplified design based on existing technology from medical ventilator specialist firms Penlon and Smiths.

However, with so many different firms involved in the consortium, there is also uncertainty about how quickly approval for the design and accelerated production can happen.

Separately, the members of the consortium plan to ramp up supplies to firms Penlon and Smiths which already make ventilators.

The urgency of the situation appears to have exposed cracks in collaboration between government departments. The BBC understands that in one instance the Department of Health was unaware that 10,000 ventilators had been ordered from Dyson, despite the order having been placed in a Cabinet Office-headed letter.

Some Whitehall sources say the invitation to participate languished in the in-tray of more junior Health Department officials until it was too late. Meanwhile, government sources claimed that the programme would not have made a meaningful difference to available equipment because the UK would have been one of 28 countries vying for the new units.

Image copyright Getty Images

The UK has the same target of 30,000 as the state of New York which has a third of the population of the UK.

The BBC has approached the government for comment.

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