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1,500 ventilators a week to roll off production lines by May, say manufacturers

It comes as a new design based on the old iron lungs used to treat polio was unveiled as an alternative to ventilators.

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At least 1,500 ventilators a week could be rolling off British production lines by the end of the month to help in the fight against Covid-19, a leading manufacturing group has said.

The NHS is set to get 30 new ventilators next week with the Government promising “hundreds” more to follow.

It is thought at least 30,000 ventilators will be needed to cope with the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, with manufacturing companies including Dyson, Siemens and Rolls-Royce involved in a drive to produce more.

There are 8,000 ventilators currently being used across the NHS in the UK, helping to treat the most severely affected Covid-19 patients.

The devices take over a patient’s breathing function while they are sedated, pushing air into the lungs and giving time to fight the infection and recover.

Earlier this week, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare trusts, said it was clear ventilator numbers needed to “significantly increase”.

A key consortium which answered the Government’s call to help meet demand for the devices, said on Thursday it would be “scaling up” production over coming weeks, aiming to make 1,500 machines a week, by early May.

The announcement comes as another group of scientists, manufacturers and clinicians have unveiled plans for a non-invasive alternative to the ventilator, called Exovent, which is a reinvention of iron lung-technology, used to treat polio patients.

The Exovent is based on principles employed in the workings of iron lungs, once used to treat polio patients (John Hunter/Steer Energy/PA)

Project clinicians hope the device’s simple design, which will shortly be under-going clinical trials, means thousands could be made “very quickly and cheaply” with off-the-shelf parts.

The Ventilator Challenge UK group which includes Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and leading Formula One racing teams, said on Monday it had received a formal order to provide the NHS with 10,000 devices.

The consortium has used its considerable design and building resources to help deliver two different models, under the codenames Project Oyster and Project Penguin, in a little over two weeks.

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.

Formula One Pre-Season Testing – Day Two – Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya
Williams’ Formula One engineers have been involved in helping design and build new ventilators (David Davies/PA)

Dick Elsy, who is leading the consortium, said: “To provide some context, Penlon and Smiths ordinarily have combined capacity for between 50 and 60 ventilators per week.

“However, thanks to the scale and resources of the wider consortium, we are targeting production of at least 1,500 units a week of the Penlon and Smiths models combined within a matter of weeks.”

He added that engineers were working round the clock on what were “intricate and highly complex devices”, balancing speed with the need to ensure patients’ safety.

Work to re-engineer parts for the Smiths-made ventilator has been carried out by the Williams racing team, with about 50 people involved remotely or working from its factory in Grove, Oxfordshire.

Meanwhile it is hoped the Exovent device, which involves the UK’s Marshall Aerospace & Defence Group and Warwick Manufacturing Group, will be ready for clinical trials within days, with two hospitals agreeing to help test it and talks with a third on-going.

A design image of Dyson’s CoVent ventilator (Dyson/PA)

Once trials are completed, the results will be presented to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates use of all such devices in the UK.

Dr Malcolm Coulthard , the project’s leading clinician. said: “As soon as we looked into the science and the literature it immediately became apparent that this will allow us to produce less-invasive devices than the conventional units in current use, possibly better for patients’ hearts, at a fraction of the price, using off-the-shelf parts.”

Backing the project, professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University, Sir John Burn said: “The Exovent team has cleverly adapted the old concept of the iron lung which was used for treating polio.

“This device is cheap, simple and it will work. I am convinced it provides a real alternative and is worthy of support.”

Last month, Dyson said it had received an order from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has coronavirus, to build 10,000 of its own CoVent design.

Production of other existing devices made by firms Diamedica, in Barnstaple, and Breas Medical, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, have also been scaled up.

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