woman on a ventilator in a hospital bed

Government cancels order of ‘BlueSky’ ventilators designed by F1 teams

Image credit: Getty Images

The government has cancelled a provisional order for thousands of 'BlueSky' ventilators – a new model designed by a group including some Formula One (F1) teams – as it may not be suitable for treating Covid-19 patients.

The NHS is required to increase its stock of ventilators from around 12,000 to around 18,000 or even higher in order to manage the incoming peak of Covid-19 cases. The government indicated in April that industry should aim to deliver 5,000 ventilators within the space of a month and before the peak of the pandemic hits the UK.

Covid-19 causes severe respiratory difficulties in a fraction of cases, requiring some patients to receive invasive ventilation. A shortage of invasive ventilators has emerged as a complication in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK government has sourced some ventilators for the NHS from private healthcare companies; imported some from abroad; ordered some from existing manufacturers, but is also seeking to meet demand by ordering thousands of ventilators from consortia of dozens of engineering companies which previously did not specialise in the design or manufacture of healthcare devices, such as Dyson and Airbus. These companies plan to uptool their temporarily unused manufacturing facilities to either produce ventilators from existing and adapted designs or offer entirely new designs.

The companies aiming to manufacture ventilators from original designs are in a race against time, as they must get regulatory approval before Covid-19 peaks in the UK - this is expected to arrive by the end of April. This is likely to prove a challenge, even with the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory Agency (MHRA) giving high priority to products which play a role in the pandemic response.

According to a Guardian report, the Cabinet Office has confirmed that the government has called off a plan to buy thousands of 'BlueSky' ventilators (formerly 'Remora') from a group including the Renault and Red Bull F1 teams and a small Essex-based medical devices specialist called Darwood IP, due to concerns that their design is not suitable for managing symptoms specific to Covid-19.

According to the report, fluid accumulates in Covid-19 patients’ lungs unusually quickly, so ventilators must be switched to different settings while their lungs are cleared. It transpired that the BlueSky device is not suitable for frequent setting switches.

The decision to cancel the order was taken “following a reassessment of the product’s viability in light of the ever-developing picture around what is needed to most effectively treat Covid-19”, according to a Cabinet Office spokesperson. The thousands of devices had not been formally ordered or paid for, as they had not yet received approval from the MHRA.

The group of seven F1 teams are continuing to assist with other ventilator projects under 'Project Pitline', including reverse-engineering existing medical devices, providing PPE and scaling existing ventilator designs for rapid manufacturing. The teams have had more than 10,000 ventilator orders overall, as well as 10,000 orders for newly-designed breathing aids which have already recieved regulatory approval.

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