Coronavirus: NHS well stocked for ventilators this winter


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The NHS now has 30,000 ventilators who can help people breathe if they are very sick with the coronavirus.

That’s about one for every 2,200 people in the UK – far more than what will likely be needed this winter.

Hospitals in England had 7,400 machines at the start of the pandemic, a report reveals. And the government spent £ 569million to get more.

The Public Accounts Committee says ministers prioritized speed over costs, but used taxpayer dollars responsibly.

Currently, 2,049 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in the UK.

And 297 of them are on fans.

Fan challenge

When the coronavirus first hit UK shores, experts estimated the NHS could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and would need 90,000 beds with ventilators to cope.

In response, the government decided to buy as many machines as possible.

And he encouraged British manufacturers to make new ones, by launching his Ventilator Challenge.

The estimate of ventilators needed was subsequently revised downward – to 17,500 in England.

But the government had already signed contracts with suppliers and paid money up front, the PAC report said.

However, around £ 36.3million of that money was recovered by canceling orders and selling components brought in for manufacture in the larger supply chain.

The report also says:

  • The government faced increasing competition to buy ventilators in the global market and generally had to pay up front, and in some cases more than usual market rates, accepting risky products may not be appropriate.
  • In one of those cases, 750 ventilators, purchased for around £ 2.2million, were withdrawn from use following comments from clinicians.
  • Established NHS providers received an average of £ 20,000 for each of the 2,200 new intensive care unit mechanical ventilators, while another 5,900 were purchased from new providers for around £ 30,100 each.
  • The Cabinet Office requested supplier cost insurance, with input from the Insurance and Cost Analysis Department of the Ministry of Defense.

At the spring peak of the coronavirus, 6,818 of 10,900 ventilators available across the UK were being used to treat patients in England.

And by September 16, around 2,150 of the additional ventilators purchased or built had been distributed to NHS trusts.

The rest are stored in warehouses, including a facility in Donnington owned by the Department of Defense.

The government has also purchased 17,800 other non-invasive oxygen therapy devices for the NHS, such as continuous positive airway pressure devices.

‘The length of the arm’

Labor MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the PAC, said the government had been “quickly pulled out of the blocks” to increase the number of ventilators in the NHS.

“We were lucky that the worst case scenario did not happen until the additional fans arrived,” she said.

“However, the NHS is now much better prepared for what will happen next.

“The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and the Cabinet Office have shown that it is possible to work at the pace and get results without writing a blank check.

“In this case, they kept the cankers at bay and set a baseline for supply during the pandemic. ”

Professor Derek Hill, medical device expert at University College London, said: ‘Under normal circumstances, over £ 500million spent on unused medical equipment would be considered a massive waste of taxpayer money, but in the context of Covid, and risk mitigation, the National Audit Office is not critical of the program. ”

A government spokesperson said: “The NHS now has access to over 30,000 mechanical ventilators and 15,000 non-invasive. That’s more than three times as much as it had at the start of the pandemic, so we’re well prepared to meet any future needs. “


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