uk subway coronavirus
A passenger wears a ventilator mask on a London Underground tube train in London on March 30, 2020, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. Image Credit: AFP

London: Britain has ordered more than 10,000 ventilators from a consortium of leading aerospace, engineering and Formula One racing teams which have met an urgent government plea for help with production due to start this week.

The group, including Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford and seven Formula One teams, have come together to ramp up production of an existing ventilator made by Smiths Group to help save the lives of those with complications from COVID-19.

The companies, which also include Rolls-Royce and Meggitt, said they had pulled staff off existing projects to meet the national need.

“This consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world,” Dick Elsy, the head of the consortium, said in a statement. “I am confident this consortium has the skills and tools to make a difference and save lives.” The United Kingdom, which initially only had 5,000 ventilators available in its National Health Service, has been scrambling to secure additional supplies of the equipment which can keep patients alive.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is now in isolation in Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus, made an emergency appeal earlier this month for manufacturers to start making specialist health equipment including ventilators.

The government said it needed 30,000 ventilators. Britain currently has about 8,000 ventilators with another 8,000 on order from international manufacturers that are due in coming weeks.

Reuters reported last week that the consortium had joined forces to build ventilators and was waiting for the green light from government to start production.

Vacuum cleaner company Dyson said last week it had received an order of a newly-made ventilator which will need to be approved by the health regulator.

Ventilator scramble

The consortium, which was asked in mid-March to come up with a way to retool factories that produce everything from aircraft engines to the world’s fastest racing cars, did not say when the ventilators would be ready for use in hospitals.

Smiths Group said the team would ramp up production of its Smiths Medical paraPAC plus, a lightweight and portable ventilator that helps take the strain from the lungs. The device is fully certified and used by medical professionals within Britain and overseas.

The company is also working with governments and manufacturing teams around the world.

“It is inspiring to work with the very best UK Technology and Engineering companies with a spirit of grit and determination to deliver these life saving devices to our incredible health service,” Chief Executive Andrew Reynolds Smith.

The consortium is also building another ventilator from existing producer Penlon.

A total of 1,228 people have died in the United Kingdom from coronavirus, as of 1700 GMT on Saturday.

Separately on Monday a group including Mercedes Formula One said it had developed a new version of a breathing aid that can help coronavirus patients in less a week. It is now being trialled in hospitals.