Manufacturers told to start making thousands of ventilators

A consortium will scale up production of the ParaPac portable ventilator used in ambulances as well as a design from Oxfordshire's Penlon

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A ventilator at a hospital in Hamburg 
A ventilator at a hospital in Hamburg 

The Government has formally requested a consortium of UK manufacturers to speed up production of a new ventilator based on existing technology, The Telegraph understands. 

A formal announcement by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will be made on Thursday afternoon.

Ramping up production of life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus patients will tap the talents of some of Britain's biggest and best-known companies.

In just nine days a consortium called Ventilator Challenge UK, made up of heavyweights from industry, has come together to work out a way to scale up production of a ventilator built in the UK and a modifying another design so it can be manufactured faster in British factories.

Increasing output of existing designs already approved by medical regulators is seen as the quickest way of getting more of machines onto NHS wards rather than relying on unproven new models.

The full consortium is working on scaling up production of the less complex ParaPac portable ventilator often used in ambulances and built by Smiths Group. A second effort is going into increasing output of a design from Oxfordshire-based Penlon, and altering it slightly to increase the rate at which it can built at.

The NHS needs 30,000 ventilators within weeks to treat coronavirus patients.

The Telegraph understands that the consortium is being led Dick Elsy, chief executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult research centre, which plans start production of ventilators starting next week.

The group is understood to have secured materials and components that are “readily available” in the UK. This means that British efforts to build ventilators will not be competing on the global market for critical parts as other countries also seek more machines as the pandemic spreads.

Other members of the consortium are: Accenture; Airbus; BAE Systems; Ford; GKN; Inspiration Healthcare; Meggitt; Renishaw; Penlon; Smiths Group; Siemens; Rolls-Royce; Thales; Ultra Electronics; Unilever and Formula 1 teams HAAS Racing, Racing Point, McLaren, Mercedes Red Bull andWilliams.

Also supporting the effort are Arrow Electronics, Dell Technologies, PTC and Microsoft.

Although final plans are still being decided, it is thought that as well as major companies lending their expertise to boost output at existing factories, new production line will be set up at sites around the country.

The government appeal to industry for help in accelerating ventilator output received replies from more than 3,000 businesses.

Other groups are working on entirely new designs which still have to win approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Vacuum cleaner manufacturer Sir James Dyson said his company has created a ventilator that is undergoing testing and claimed he has received an order for 10,000 of them.

However, government insiders said this order was dependent on the machines being approved by regulators.

Gtech, another manufacturer of household appliances, has also come up with a clean sheet design that it is also being tested by authorities.

Babcock, the FTSE 250 defence and aerospace engineer, is working with a foreign medical company that makes ventilators. It has come up with a design also being tested and is setting up two factories in the UK - one in Scotland and one in the South West - to build the ventilators if it is approved.