COVID-19: Ventilator Crisis

Written by: Amy Leary | Published:

COVID-19 is taking the world by storm. With talks of UK lockdown being just days away, it is a very unsettling time for everyone. If you were to tell me last year that in the first few months of 2020 there would be roaring Australian bushfires, climate emergencies, US trade tariff wars and a deadly virus spreading across the globe – I wouldn’t have believed you.

It was January 30th, 2020 when the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency”. The virus first broke out in Wuhan late December 2019 which spread like wildfire – causing almost 9,000 casualties in less than three months. The virus has now been confirmed in over 160 countries and has infected over 219,042 people worldwide. Things haven’t got much better - on March 11th, 2020, World Health Organization confirmed the Coronavirus a pandemic. A pandemic is the term used for a disease which is spreading between multiple people and counties at the same time. The last time a pandemic occurred was 2009 with swine flu. With UK schools closing as of Friday 20th March, we are expecting to be put on lockdown any day now.

With unsettling talks of lockdown flooding the country, most of the nation are panic buying the essentials to survive in quarantine. However, many other industries are panic buying in order to tackle and prevent the virus from spreading further. The US and UK Government have called on all manufactures to help make NHS ventilators. The NHS has only 5,000 ventilators and needs another 30,000 within two weeks – according to Boris Johnson.

UK Government

For many patients critically ill with COVID-19 – a ventilator could be a matter of life or death. The structure of the machine is to get oxygen to the lungs while removing carbon dioxide. This is essential for patients who are too sick to breathe on their own. Earlier this week, Boris Johnson announced the shortage of ventilators in order to tackle the virus. According to the BBC, the government is speaking to a wide range of manufacturers to see if they can lend a hand. The goal is to have "many times" the current number - about 20,000 additional machines as quickly as possible. "The fact the government is asking manufacturers to make a different product to what they normally make is unprecedented since the World War Two," Justin Benson, from the consultancy KMPG, said. "It's a relatively complex piece of equipment with lots of components and a dedicated supply chain. So, asking someone who makes a car to produce a respirator would take them some time."

Currently, the other company which has been officially mentioned by the government to help is Oxfordshire firm Unipart group – they will be assisting with manufacturing ventilators. However, there have been talks of Rolls-Royce JCB taking part as well. Not only this, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota are among manufactures who have been contacted by ministers. Honda told the FT it has “identified some potential areas where we may be able to provide support and have communicated this to government”.

“We’re calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis” said a Downing street spokesperson. “We need to step up production of vital equipment such as ventilators so that we can all help the most vulnerable, and we need businesses to come to us and help in this national effort.”

US Government

Discussions are underway with General Motors and Ford with the White House about using vacant car factories to manufacture breathing equipment. The breathing equipment will be used for patients tackling COVID-19 who need assistant breathing. Ford have said they are ready “to help the administration in any way we can . . . We have had preliminary talks with the US government and are looking into the feasibility”. In the United States, The Society of Critical Care Medicine could need tens of thousands of extra ventilators in the coming weeks, according to CNN.

Challenges

These are very difficult times for individuals and businesses due to the uncertainty of what the future holds. It’s challenging for the NHS to gather as many ventilators as possible due to the fact there are only 5,000 in the UK. Its not like we are able to borrow a few thousand ventilators from a nearby country as they are in high demand across the globe. When the city of Wuhan went into lockdown, China’s industrial equipment department said to have produced more than 15,000 ventilators – however – the UK will not be able to match that purely because of the lack of factories and manufactures on our home soil. As the demand for these devices are so high, its difficult to source the parts to manufacturer the ventilators. Not only this, delivery times are almost at a standstill due to many factories and borders being on lockdown. Stated from CNN, doctors have warned that finding staff to operate the machines in already stretched healthcare systems will be a challenge. Dr. Rinesh Parmar, chair of the Doctors' Association UK, said "the elephant in the room is that we have a critical shortage of intensive care doctors and nurses in the [National Health Service] who can look after ventilated patients" and said staff would need to be retrained.

Not only this, ventilators are very difficult to manufacturer due to its unique structure and programming. “These are extremely sensitive machines with not only a lot of hardware, but also a lot of software. If one of the components does not work correctly, the whole machine shuts down and cannot be used anymore,” Jens Hallek, CEO at Hamilton Medical said.

Why it is so important

According to The Manufacturer, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said on Sunday that UK hospitals have about 5,000 ventilators but that more are needed to treat patients with serious cases of the Coronavirus.

Ventilators are critical within the treatment of the most severe cased of COVID-19 in assisting patients to breathe. The breathing assist devices regulate oxygen into the patient’s lungs and extract carbon dioxide – just like a normal set of healthy lungs would. According to Axios’ Caitlin Owens, there are about 62,000 ventilators in the US. There is such a high demand for these devices that Airon Corporation, a small ventilator maker, had to turn down a request from an Italian company for 2,000 machines. Along with this, manufacturers are having to drop their work to produce these devices. These devices are so important for critically ill patients as it could be the difference between life and death.

What can I do to help?

The Government wants an army of manufactures to assembly ventilators in order to suppress this virus. If you are a contract manufacturer and have the facilities / components to produce ventilators – contact the Government. On the other hand, if you have an old ventilator and it is no use to you then I would advise the Government as I am sure they will need it! In my opinion to help, I would begin to self-isolate as soon as possible and avoid medical centres unless necessary. As well as this, I would advise to avoid busy tourist areas to prevent further spread of the virus. More people with coronavirus will result in more people needing ventilators. Stay safe!

The Gov website released a statement saying:

The government is looking for businesses who can support in the supply of ventilators and ventilator components across the UK as part of our response to COVID-19.

As well as manufacturers, we are looking for businesses with the following skills:

  • design/specification
  • rapid prototyping
  • contract/product assembly
  • certification/regulation/testing
  • logistics
  • medical training

If you or your company has any of these skills to hand, please contact www.gov.uk

About the author:
Amy Leary is a marketing m
anager at eBOM.com


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