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More orders for NHS ventilators take number to 61,000

Rob Davies
Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty

Two more companies have secured provisional orders for 10,000 medical ventilators each, taking the number of devices in the pipeline to more than 61,000, with the first due to arrive with the NHS next week.

Details of the new orders came as the chancellor waived import duty on medical equipment coming from outside the EU, including ventilators, coronavirus testing kits and protective clothing, to improve the flow of supplies to healthcare workers.

Michael Gove said the first batch of ventilators were due to come off production lines this weekend and could reach the NHS next week.

These machines are likely to be the first of up to 15,000 ordered from Ventilator Challenge UK, a consortium including Airbus and Rolls-Royce that is scaling up production of existing designs.

A further 20,000 entirely new devices, designed in a matter of weeks, have been added to the total destined for the NHS since the start of the week.

Sagentia, a subsidiary of the Cambridge-based Science Group, said it had designed and built a prototype ventilator, with government funding, that should be simpler to produce than some traditional models because it did not require components sourced externally.

The company believes it can make the ventilators itself, or in partnership with one of several subcontractors it is talking with.But its device still needs approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It is sending 20 trial units to the MHRA. If the regulator gives the green light, the government has agreed to buy 10,000 machines, which could be produced in a matter of weeks.

The defence group Babcock has also secured an order in principle for 10,000 ventilators that it intends to deliver working with the German-owned medical equipment group Draeger. The machines also require regulatory approval.


Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:

  • a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly

NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.

If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Staying at home means you should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home

You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.

Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020


The government has said it needs 30,000 ventilators to deal with an expected peak of Covid-19 cases, but it has ordered significantly more, a strategy one insider said offered an “insurance policy” in case one or more projects failed.

A government spokesperson said: “The government has issued a number of ‘letters of intent’ to suppliers to source new ventilators as part of the ventilator challenge. This is in line with the prime minister’s commitment to produce as many new ventilators as possible.

“We will announce orders following devices passing the regulatory approvals process and confirmed delivery schedules.”

The NHS currently has 8,175 ventilators and the government has also placed an order for 10,000 with the engineer Dyson for a new machine called the CoVent, which has also yet to receive MHRA approval.

Ventilator Challenge UK has agreed to provide up to 15,000 more, scaling up production of proven designs from the specialist firms Smiths Medical and Penlon. They are due to begin rolling off production lines this weekend. A further 8,000 have been ordered from abroad and will not be subject to import VAT or customs tariffs, under measures announced on Tuesday by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

With the Sagentia and Babcock models added to the order total, the NHS should have around 61,000 ventilators. However, at least 30,000 of those are entirely new machines that have never been used on patients.

Sagentia’s ventilator is built using laser-cutting technology and computer numerical control machining, techniques that the company says minimises the number of components that need to be sourced, allowing many major manufacturers to produce the machine with existing equipment.

The Science Group chairman, Martyn Ratcliffe, said the effort was the “best of British engineering”.

The Guardian understands that letters of intent with more potential suppliers are set to follow.

In an attempt to speed up and reduce the costs of ventilators and other supplies coming from outside the EU, the government has also scrapped import duties on a list of vital medical items, shaving up to 12% off their cost.

The list of goods exempt from import taxes includes ventilators, Covid-19, testing kits, face masks, protective garments and eye protectors.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor , said: “Waiving import taxes on vital medical equipment such as ventilators will speed up and increase the supply of critical items going to our frontline health workers.

“Dealing with coronavirus is a collective national effort and I will do everything I can to help us win this battle.”