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Ventilator manufacturing group ramps up production exponentially

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A decade’s worth of ventilator manufacturing is being squeezed into just 10 weeks in order to rapidly scale up the UK’s ability to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, the head of a manufacturing consortium has said.

Dick Elsy leads the VentilatorChallengeUK (VCUK) Consortium which brings together significant UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “We’ve only been together for just over a month and we’ve achieved in a month what would normally take 18 months or two years.

“The consortium brings together the pace of engineering of Formula 1, the robust manufacturing processes of big industry like Rolls-Royce and Airbus and the exacting standards of clinical device manufacturing.”

Some of the medical firms in the group such as Penlon and Smiths Medical would typically only produce up to 60 ventilators a week, but a government order of 20,000 means the consortium is ramping up capacity and should be able make up to 1,500 a week by May.

“We’re going to get through sort of 10 years worth of ventilator production in almost as many weeks. It’s a major industrial scale-up,” Elsy said:

VCUK is accelerating production of two agreed designs, based on existing technologies, which can be assembled from materials and parts that are already being made. 

Penlon’s Prima ESO2 device only received approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency last week.

“Ventilators are intricate and highly complex pieces of medical equipment and it is vital that we balance the twin imperatives of speed of delivery with the absolute adherence to regulatory standards that is needed to ensure patient safety,” Elsy said soon after the creation of VCUK.

Units are being made at cost, with each device costing a few thousand pounds to produce.

Meanwhile Stephen Hawking’s daughter has said that the renowned physicist’s ventilator has been donated to the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge to help treat patients with coronavirus.

Lucy Hawking said: “Our father received brilliant, dedicated and compassionate medical care from both Royal Papworth and Addenbrooke’s Hospitals in Cambridge.

“As a ventilated patient, Royal Papworth was incredibly important to my father and helped him through some very difficult times.

“We realised that it would be at the forefront of the Covid-19 epidemic and got in touch with some of our old friends there to ask if we could help.

“After our father passed away, we returned all the medical equipment he used that belonged to the NHS but there were some items which he bought for himself.

“We are now passing them to the NHS in the hope they will help in the fight against Covid-19.”

The Royal Papworth Hospital has expanded its critical care department to more than double its usual size due to the increasing number of coronavirus admissions.

It has received additional supplies of ventilators from the NHS but – after a check by the hospital’s clinical engineering team – has added the ventilator donated by the Hawking family to its fleet.

Dr Mike Davies, clinical director for respiratory medicine at Papworth, said: “It was lovely to hear from the Hawking family again and we are so grateful for them for donating this equipment.

“We are now extremely busy caring for patients who are critically ill with Covid-19 and the support we are receiving from patients, their families and the local community means a great deal.”

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