UK businesses launch VentilatorChallengeUK consortium

Chloe Kent 30 March 2020 (Last Updated March 30th, 2020 12:10)

A collective of UK-based industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors has come together to form the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium.

UK businesses launch VentilatorChallengeUK consortium
Engineers from Formula 1 have worked with UCL to develop a CPAP device for the NHS. Credit: UCL

A collective of UK-based industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors has come together to form the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium.

The consortium, which includes Siemens Healthineers and the Inspiration Healthcare Group, is working to produce a range of ventilator options to tackle the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The UK government has 8,175 ventilators, but estimates that it may need as many as 30,000 more within the next few weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic peaks. Companies in the consortium have now received formal orders from the government in excess of 10,000 units.

The consortium has evaluated the requirements to design, manufacture, assemble and test components, as well as finished medical ventilators. It will now accelerate production of an agreed new design, based on existing technologies, which can be assembled from materials and parts already in production.

Manufacturing of the new ventilators is expected to begin this week.

High Value Manufacturing Catapult CEO Dick Elsy, who leads the consortium, said: “This consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world. Every day, their highly-skilled staff collaborate to create solutions that help millions of people, and this project is no different.”

The Guardian reported over the weekend that two different schemes were under development through VentilatorChallengeUK. One, reportedly codenamed ‘Project Oyster’, would see the consortium massively increase production of a ventilator designed by medical equipment firm Penlon. Meanwhile, ‘Project Penguin’ would do the same with a model manufactured by Smiths Medical. Penlon and Smiths are both members of the consortium.

Consortium member Inspiration Healthcare has also received a £4m order from the NHS to import ventilators from the US and Israel.

Engineers from Formula 1, which has many UK-based teams such as Mercedes and Red Bull working within VentilatorChallengeUK, have also worked with University College London (UCL) to develop a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for the NHS.

The breathing aid helps Covid-19 patients with serious lung infections breathe more easily when oxygen alone is insufficient. It has now been approved for use in the NHS by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Last week, Dyson became the first company to reveal it had received a formal contract from the UK government to provide ventilators. The government has ordered 10,000 of its CoVent prototype, which will be deployed subject to regulatory approval.

The UK government has also belatedly joined an EU procurement project to acquire ventilators, having initially said it would not take part due to no longer being part of the EU. For this, it was accused by Liberal Democrat MP and party leadership candidate Layla Moran of putting “Brexit over breathing”.