NHS trusts have called on health chiefs and the Government for greater detail on future ventilator capacity as a new order for 10,000 devices was placed with leading manufacturers.
A consortium including Rolls-Royce is ready to start producing medical devices under the name Project Oyster, and is also jointly scaling-up production of an existing design, known as Project Penguin.
It follows an announcement from Dyson that it had received an order from Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who has coronavirus – to build 10,000 of its own CoVent design.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare trusts, said it was clear ventilator numbers needed to “significantly increase”.
Welcoming steps to source more devices he added “extra capacity will take time to deliver” and said it would be “helpful” if forecasts on numbers could be shared with trusts.
We're proud to lead the @VentilatorU consortium of UK industrial, #technology & engineering businesses from across aerospace, automotive & medical sectors, come together to produce #medical#ventilators for the UK.
— High Value Manufacturing Catapult (@HVM_Catapult) March 30, 2020
He said: “We are in a marathon, not a sprint, and the extra capacity will arrive later in the race, so we know there will be pressure over the next few weeks.
“National leaders tell us that there will be sufficient capacity but there can obviously be no guarantees that there won’t be gaps in certain places at certain points.
“If those gaps occur trust leaders know that their role is to do the best they can with the resources they already have.
“It would be helpful if national NHS leaders and the Government shared more of the detail on how they see ventilator capacity growing, what the constraints for the immediate next few weeks are likely to be, and how these constraints will be managed.”
Ministers have been trying to boost the number of ventilators in recent weeks as they look to increase the stock of just over 8,000 already available to the NHS.
The devices take over the body’s breathing function, pushing air into the lungs and giving the patient time to fight the infection and recover.
The Ventilator Challenge UK consortium said it had taken about a week to meet specifications developed by clinicians for a rapidly manufactured system.
Ford Motor Company
High Value Manufacturing Catapult
Inspiration Healthcare Group
Red Bull Racing
Renault Sport Racing
Siemens Healthineers and Siemens UK
The specification has been overseen by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medical devices in the UK.
Downing Street said testing was continuing “at pace” to approve designs of new ventilators, with 8,000 on order from “existing and new partners”.
On Monday, the consortium, which also includes several UK-based Formula One teams including McLaren, Mercedes and Williams, said it had received a formal order for 10,000 devices and could produce more if needed.
There is expectation of a “straightforward and very prompt regulatory sign-off” on the consortium, following a final audit, with production understood to be ready to start this week.
Project Oyster has involved making slight tweaks to an existing design by Oxfordshire-based firm Penlon, aimed at speeding up the assembly process.
The consortium is also lending its manufacturing muscle to increasing production of a device called the ParaPac ventilator, made by Luton-based Smiths Medical, under Project Penguin.
Among the firms also involved are Ford, GKN Aerospace, High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Inspiration Healthcare, Meggitt, Renishaw, Siemens, Thales, Ultra Electronics and Unilever, plus Formula One teams Haas F1, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point and Renault Sport Racing.
Dick Elsy, leading the consortium, said it brought together firms used to solving problems, adding: “This project is no different. I am confident this consortium has the skills and tools to make a difference and save lives.”
Vacuum cleaner builder and engineering firm Dyson announced earlier this week ministers had asked it to produce thousands of ventilators to help in the fight against the pandemic.
Billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson said in a staff email that an initial order has been placed for its CoVent design, promising a donation of an additional 5,000 to the international effort.
A design for the battery-operated device, which would attach to patients’ beds, took about 10 days to work up but is yet to get regulatory approval.
The ventilator, created with The Technology Partnership (TTP), would be assembled at Dyson’s Wiltshire facility.
On Monday, Staffordshire-based construction equipment giant JCB said it had repurposed part of its dormant production line to start building the metal housing for the Dyson design. It has delivered prototypes to Dyson already.
JCB said it received a direct approach from the Prime Minister to help with the effort earlier this month, with chairman Lord Bamford promising assistance.
Mass production of the housings could start at its repurposed cab production line in Uttoxeter, “in a matter of days”, JCB said.
Other manufacturers joining the push include defence engineering firm Babcock which, together with a leading medical equipment company, is working on plans to design and build its own critical care ventilators.
University College London worked with clinicians at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Mercedes Formula One team to build devices that get oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator.
The continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, used in adults, children and premature babies, are already used in hospitals.
Technicians reverse-engineered a device and made improvements and the NHS has been given the go-ahead to order enough to meet clinical demand after a successful trial.
The device has already been approved for use by the MHRA.
Nadhim Zahawi, business and industry minister, said the consortium was “key” to ramping up ventilator capacity.
“Over 3,000 companies answered the Prime Minister’s call for ventilator production and their help will be vital as we make our way through this turbulent period,” he added.