12th Jul, 2020

Doctor on the frontline treating coronavirus patients questions Government's ventilator plan

Tristan Harris 30th Mar, 2020 Updated: 30th Mar, 2020

A DOCTOR on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus has questioned the Government’s approach to acquiring enough ventilators for those who need them.

Dr David Nicholl, a senior doctor at a Birmingham hospital, called last week for the UK to sign up to the EU procurement scheme so it would be better-placed to acquire ventilators and other equipment to tackle COVID-19.

All 25 EU countries signed up to a joint scheme to buy ventilators and protective gear for medical staff, along with coronavirus testing kits.

The UK, although not a member of the EU, continues to follow the union’s rules and regulations until the end of the year and was eligible to join the scheme.

The UK was also invited to take part in the scheme aimed at using the single-market’s huge buying power to secure faster and cheaper orders with less admin at a time of extreme global demand.

Dr Nicholl, who lives in Hagley and stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate for Bromsgrove in last year’s election, said: “As someone directly involved in the care of COVID-19 patients and planning for the pandemic in the coming weeks, I am disappointed the Government has not signed up to this initiative.

“In a war you work with everyone to defeat it, even if your enemy is Covid-19. Instead, the Conservatives have chosen not to work with our European neighbours.”

Dr Nicholl also accused Michael Gove of contradicting Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Government policy.

On the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday Matt Hancock said: “We are invited to be part of it and we engaged with that process today but we are not clear whether how many extra ventilators we could get from that process so we are just getting on with it – buying them from around the world, buying them from UK producers and turning other companies to making them.

“For example Formula One have said they will get their factories which normally create cars and work with their brilliant engineers to create ventilators.

“The truth is – this is going to be a national effort and we have to turn the whole resources of the country to how we can best stop the growth of the virus and grow the NHS capacity to deal with it.”

But Mr Gove on The Andrew Marr show on Sunday said there was some confusion with regard to the scheme, adding there was nothing in the EU scheme that would benefit the country more than what it was already doing on its own.

“We have 8,000 ventilators available in the NHS now as a result of changing the way NHS hospitals work and also by securing capacity from the private sector.

“And we have at least another 8,000 ventilators coming on-stream which we have managed to secure from abroad – some have come from other EU nations and others from beyond there.

“And of course we are ramping up domestic production of ventilators and there have been a number of companies – Dyson, McLaren and Rolls Royce which have been involved.”

One company Mr Gove did not mention is Gtech which, after announcing last week it was switching from making vacuum cleaners to manufacture ventilators said the Government turned down its offer.

A Government spokesperson said: “We had an overwhelming response from businesses across the UK offering their support, and we are very grateful to Gtech for their effort.

“Unfortunately the Gtech ventilator model did not pass the Government’s stringent safety tests and we will not be proceeding further.”

Ventilator models were looked at by the Technical Design Authority which includes a panel of clinicians.

Reasons for the Government not accepting certain designs included them being inflexible for clinical use, did not meet specifications or other options were more appropriate.

Dr Nicholl said: “With 30,000 ventilators needed, every civil servant should be focused on this.

“We need to do all we can to get all the ventilators and other equipment we need.

“This is going to go on for weeks so we need to act now.”

He added a lot of staff at his and all hospitals had been reassigned from their usual departments to help care for coronavirus patients.

“The NHS is busting a gut on this – I cannot put into words how unbelievably hard everyone is working.

“On the one hand the staff are under a lot of pressure but at the same time so many are asking what they can do to help – the dedication is unbelievable.

“The health service is responding as it does in any emergency but that does not mean we will all be okay.

“The NHS has changed more in the last two weeks than I have seen it in the past 20 years – I barely recognise my own workplace.

“There is no doctor alive who has ever faced anything like this – the last time there was anything near this was the Spanish Flu and that was in 1918.”

We approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment and were directed to a statement from Number 10.

It read: “To date, there are more than 8,000 ventilators available to NHS patients, with another 8,000 expected from existing UK and international manufacturers in the next few weeks.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK must step up production of ventilators even further to support the UK’s response to the virus and save lives.

“The Prime Minister’s call to manufacturers last week had an overwhelming response, with a wide range of UK and international businesses offering to help provide services, including designing and building new devices, manufacturing components or transporting them to NHS hospitals.

“Following this, the Government has partnered a number of the UK’s leading technology and engineering firms with smaller manufacturers to rapidly build existing, modified or newly designed ventilators at speed, with seven priority projects underway.

“They are working to improve the speed at which current UK ventilator manufacturers can produce their devices, with larger companies changing their existing operations to help provide the UK with the equipment and personnel it needs for this effort.

“The Prime Minister spoke to a dozen of the companies involved to thank them for all their work so far and to discuss ways that the government could support them to build ventilators more quickly and in greater quantities for the frontline in the coming weeks.”

It mentioned numerous compoanies involved, including High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Meggitt, Ford, GKN Aerospace, Babcock, Plexus, Siemens PLC & Siemens Healthineers, McLaren, Rolls Royce, Airbus, Renault F1, PA Consulting, Renishaw, GE Healthcare Systems, Smiths Group PLC, Hass, Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, Williams, Racing Point, Thales, Microsoft, BAE Systems, Accenture, Penlon and PTC.

It did not mention the EU procurement scheme.

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