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COVID-19 - Is the UK Government’s plan to ramp up ventilator production 'unrealistic'?

The UK Government has been under some criticism lately due to its alleged ‘relaxed’ approach to tackling the coronavirus outbreak. However, in recent days many would agree their approach has shifted. With more restrictions on travel and advice to increase self-isolation, another notable change in the approach has included a ‘call to arms’; a scheme to drastically increase the production of medical ventilators. The Health Secretary outlined that the NHS has only 5,000 ventilators, a woefully insufficient amount to deal with this outbreak.

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister has asked British Industry to rise to this immediate challenge by offering their skills and expertise, as well as manufacturing the components themselves. They are hurriedly formulating a design for a British-made medical ventilator ‘from scratch’ and the government has called for 30,000 of these ventilators to be made within two weeks.

As such, the attempt to mobilise the UK's manufacturing sector has been likened to a scrap metal scheme that was introduced during the Second World War to rapidly increase production of Spitfires.

However, leading figures within the Medical Device space have cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s approach, claiming that it is unrealistic for firms to switch their type of production. In addition, executives from the motor industry have reiterated this claim, emphasising that this will not be a simple process. Nevertheless, there has been some positive news from the motor industry, as many of Britain’s carmakers have the physical space required on their sites to undertake this production due to reduced output. However, there will be challenges, including the sourcing of electrical components from China, testing the units, and challenges that arise with existing regulations.

Rather than large manufacturers producing ventilators from scratch, some believe the solution to the problem is to use contract manufacturing. Small manufacturers from across the country are already responding to the Government's appeal for help by offering to assist in the production of smaller parts, ultimately speeding up the whole process for existing ventilator manufacturers in the UK.

It’s evident that there has been a willingness to come together in the national interest. However, all sides must be flexible in face of this challenge. There are several potential routes to take and it is pragmatic to consider them all. The key will be in how this process is managed, and whether they can work together effectively. It will be a momentous task, but according to some within UK Industry, a task which is ultimately achievable.


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