Manufacturers including Airbus and Dyson are waiting for the government to give the green light to start producing medical ventilators, after separately finalising plans to make thousands needed to help the NHS fight Covid-19.

The proposals vary, with Dyson offering to design and build a new ventilator from scratch and a consortium called Ventilator Challenge UK, led by Airbus, planning to scale up production of existing models.

The government, which wants to increase the number of ventilators in the NHS from 8,175 to 30,000, is considering which option to choose or whether to press ahead with both. A decision could come as soon as Wednesday, according to sources in Westminster.

In the meantime the government has placed multimillion-pound orders with specialist suppliers that can provide a small number of ventilators to start addressing the shortfall. These include Crawley-based Inspiration Healthcare, which said in a statement to investors that it had taken more than £5m in orders from the NHS.

Ventilator Challenge UK’s plan is thought to have made the most progress, working to designs already made by Smiths Medical, from Luton, and Oxfordshire-based Penlon.

While the two firms are unable to produce the required number of ventilators on their own, they can draw on the facilities of other members of the consortium, including the engineers GKN and Meggitt and the automotive company McLaren.

The government is thought to be keen to press ahead with this plan but is also considering the alternative proposal from Dyson. The vacuum cleaner company is working on a prototype ventilator with the Technology Partnership, a Cambridge-based group of science and innovation companies with expertise in medical equipment.

Work is going on at Dyson’s Hullavington laboratory in Wiltshire, where it was designing an electric car until the plan was abandoned last year. Dyson believes it can deploy its patents and knowledge in areas where there is some crossover between its products and ventilators. These include digital motors, battery packs, expertise in airflow, and HEPA filters, which block fine particles but not air.

Sources familiar with the two schemes said they were in a position to start work but were waiting on the government to give its blessing to one or both of the projects.

The wide-ranging collaboration between the government and the UK’s industrial powerhouses is being coordinated by three government departments, alongside the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a research organisation.

The Cabinet Office is managing procurement of the machines under the oversight of the chief commercial officer, Gareth Rhys Williams, while the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial strategy is fielding offers of help from UK companies.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHCS) is responsible for vetting the types of ventilator that could be built and has drawn up a list of specifications that were sent out to companies hoping to build one from scratch.



The government is also exploring other sources of ventilators to plug the gap until larger production volumes come on stream.

Inspiration Healthcare’s chief executive, Neil Campbell, said: “I’m delighted that Inspiration Healthcare has been able to benefit from our commercial relationships with critical care equipment manufacturers and source such large quantities of this very specialist equipment, working closely with the DHSC to find solutions during this difficult time.

“Inspiration Healthcare’s senior directors as well as our teams working all over the UK have played a key role in securing these supplies, which in total are considerably larger than we have ever received in the past.”

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