By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has given regulatory approval to a ventilator which will be made by a group of companies including Airbus, Ford and McLaren, the first such go-ahead as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus.
Governments around the world are trying to boost the number of available mechanical breathing devices that can supply air and oxygen, crucial for the care of people who suffer lung failure, which can be a complication of COVID-19.
The modified version of an existing design by medical devices company Penlon will join a product from Smiths, which is already being built by a consortium of aerospace, engineering, Formula One and automotive firms to fulfil a government order.
“We are working closely with our supply chain partners to rapidly scale up production to achieve our target of at least 1,500 units a week,” said Dick Elsy, chief executive of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium.
The government said on Thursday it wanted 15,000 Penlon devices and thousands from Smiths.
The initiative comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on industry to help combat the pandemic, with several manufacturers switching from their normal day-to-day activities to contribute to the project.
Ford’s Dagenham plant in east London, Britain’s biggest automotive engine factory, is now testing and assembling some components for ventilators.
Planemaker Airbus <AIR.PA> is using its Welsh Broughton site, which makes wings for commercial aircraft, for the sub-assembly of absorbers and flow machines.
McLaren’s southern English Woking site is making trolleys on which the medical devices are fixed for use in clinical settings.
Over 10,000 mechanical ventilators are available to patients in Britain’s publicly funded health service with more to come from this production run and overseas purchases, the government has said.
But whilst new models need approval, it is also taking time to ramp up the output of existing designs and prompting questions about suitability.
On Sunday, a source told Reuters that the government had cancelled an order for thousands of units of a simple model, known as BlueSky, because more sophisticated devices are now needed.
Separately, vacuum-cleaner firm Dyson is still awaiting approval for its ventilator.
“Contracts are under discussion with Dyson and are not yet available,” the Cabinet Office told Reuters on Tuesday in response to a freedom of information request.
(Editing by Kate Holton and Stephen Addison)