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Coronavirus: UK manufacturers to export surplus ventilators

Photo: Getty

UK manufacturers are set to export surplus medical ventilators produced to treat COVID-19 patients.

Some 14,000 machines were manufactured following Boris Johnson's "ventilator challenge" call to action in mid-March.

More than 5,000 companies offered their support and over 7,500 members of staff were involved in the manufacturing process.

But most of the ventilators were not needed because demand peaked at 3,301 medical ventilator beds in April, way below the UK's pre-pandemic capacity of almost 9,000.

British industry were urged to produce up to 30,000 devices by government, based on early scientific modelling from coronavirus data in China.

The target was later revised to 18,000 and the cabinet office said on Friday that production had now stopped altogether.

The leading model, produced by the specialist firm Penlon, has now received approval for export, Whitehall confirmed.

During the production push the UK's ventilator supply rose to 25,000 but the additional machines were not needed.

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The Government’s strategy involved procuring devices from overseas, scaling up the production of existing devices and calling on manufacturers who did not make ventilators, to help design and build new models.

Dr Tom Clutton-Brock, director of the medical devices testing and evaluation centre, which tested the devices, said: “Designing, manufacturing and testing ventilators usually takes years. So it’s outstanding the progress which has been made in a space of months.

“Having tested all of these devices, it’s impressive that several new models met the regulator’s requirements. These models would all have been clinically usable as pandemic ventilators and could have supported large numbers of critically ill patients.”

A number of UK manufacturers were involved in designing ventilators but these designs were not progressed to mass production due to reduced demand.

These included the Dyson/TTP CoVent, the Babcock Zephyr+, the Cambridge Consultants Veloci-Vent and the Swagelok Piran Vent, which were all deemed clinically usable.