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Government cancels order for 10,000 Dyson ventilators

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According to a statement from Dyson founder Sir James Dyson, the UK government has cancelled its provisional order of 10,000 'CoVent' ventilators.

Dyson’s CoVent ventilator was reusing technology from Dyson’s air purifier devices. The original design did not require a fixed air supply and was battery-powered, making it suitable for a range of settings such as temporary hospitals and ambulances.

Dyson had to redesign the ventilator to adapt to new specifications, which require it to connect to the gas delivery pipes used in hospitals.

The government put in an order for 10,000 CoVent machines on the condition that the design received approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Dyson worked with experts from the HRA and NHS throughout the design process, as well as with engineers from the Cambridge-based Technology Partnership in order to ensure that it could be greenlit quickly.

Sir James has now released a statement explaining that the CoVent ventilators are no longer required.

“Dyson people welcomed the government’s challenge and, working round the clock, developed an entirely new ventilator in 30 days. Mercifully, they are not now required in the UK, but we don’t regret our contribution to the national effort for one moment,” he wrote. “I have some hope that our ventilator may yet help the response in other countries, but that requires further time and investigation.”

Sir James said that Dyson had spent £20m on the project. He added that Dyson would not accept any public money for the project; instead he will be meeting the costs from his own deep pockets.

The cancellation of the provisional order is likely to be a combination of need for ventilators appearing to be lower than expected and the MHRA likely needing to take some time to test and approve the design, meaning that the Covid-19 peak is likely to have passed by the earliest time manufacturing can begin.

The ventilators were designed by Dyson engineers following a call for help from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, amid urgent concerns that the NHS did not have nearly enough invasive ventilators to meet a surge in demand as the Covid-19 pandemic peaks in the UK.

Invasive ventilators are complex medical devices which mechanically support the breathing of patients with severe respiratory difficulties.

The government has faced criticism over its management of ventilator procurement, with critics accusing the government of declining to join a Europe-wide ventilator procurement scheme for political reasons, neglecting offers from UK-based ventilator manufacturers and focusing on designing ventilators from scratch.

The government brought together 14 engineering companies for the “Ventilators Challenge UK” project to design new ventilators, adapt existing ventilator designs and scale up manufacturing in order to meet the target of 18,000 ventilators (more than doubling the pre-pandemic NHS supply). The MHRA has still not yet approved a ventilator designed from scratch.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “A number of devices are […] going through the necessary tests for regulatory approval. No decisions have been made on those devices.”

The 'BlueSky' model, developed by a Ventilators Challenge UK group including some F1 engineers, was rejected as insufficient for meeting the complex needs of Covid-19 patients after the government changed its ventilator specifications based on growing understanding of the disease.

The regulator has, however, authorised an adapted Penlon Prima ES02 ventilator. Following its approval, the government placed a vast order for 15,000 units.

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