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April 1, 2020updated 03 Apr 2020 10:41am

These UK companies are making 10,000 ventilators to fight Covid-19

By Anna Solomon

The race to deliver much-needed equipment to the NHS is on, and well-known UK manufacturers have been quick to offer up their services, reports Anna Solomon

At the end of last week, cabinet office minister Michael Gove admitted that the UK currently has just 8,000 ventilators, critical pieces of equipment in the nationwide fight against Covid-19. The government has said that the NHS needs an additional 30,000 in order to deal with the influx of extremely unwell patients expected at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Some of the biggest names in UK engineering are stepping up to the challenge of building enough ventilators before the peak, which is expected in the next couple of weeks. Dyson has already agreed to manufacture 10,000 models from scratch, though regulatory approval of the design is still pending.

The latest organisations to join the race to supply the NHS have joined forces under the umbrella Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium. The Consortium, led by CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult Dick Elsy, consists of aerospace, automotive and engineering companies including Airbus, Ford and Rolls Royce, as well as supercar makers McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing.

Elsy has pointed out that these are ‘some of the most innovative companies in the world’, and are more than up to the challenge: ‘Every day, their highly skilled staff collaborate to create solutions that help millions of people, and this project is no different.’

On Monday, the Consortium announced it had won an order for 10,000 ventilators – the second large contract awarded by the government after its commission of Dyson. The industrial and technological heavy-hitters will channel their resources to serve the national need, leveraging expertise to help not only with the production of ventilators but also a means to test the effectiveness of the ventilators, as well as trolleys to fix them to in hospitals.

Ventilator Challenge UK has agreed on two approaches based on existing clinical equipment; the first will massively increase the production of a ventilator designed by the firm Penlon and the second will do the same with a design manufactured by Smiths Medical. It expects a prompt sign off on the process for production to begin this week. Employees have taken on the new challenge with gusto, according to Elsy, and are ‘working together with incredible determination and energy.’

Companies’ commitment to fulfilling the NHS’ request for help in the production of life-saving equipment is heartening, but experts fear that it might already be too late. The next few weeks will be critical in gauging the UK’s preparedness for the anticipated surge in coronavirus cases.

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