The NHS needs ventilators now more than anything else, as it takes on the coronavirus outbreak, the Heath Secretary said.
Engineers have already been asked to draw up plans to quickly produce more ventilators in the UK, amid concerns that critical care facilities will come under intense pressure as the Covid-19 crisis intensifies.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will personally urge manufacturers to shift their production lines to build ventilators, as the NHS prepares for a significant increase in cases of Covid-19.
On Sunday night, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat tweeted: “The Prime Minister is calling for a National Effort for Ventilator production. We have been inundated with offers. If you produce ventilators please call the BEIS Business Support helpline on 0300 456 3565.
“A specific team receiving these calls will start at 10am tomorrow.”
On Monday Mr Johnson will urge manufacturers to join a “national effort” to produce equipment for the NHS.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News: “We start with around 5,000 ventilators, we think we need many times more than that, and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it.
“No number is too high.”
He added: “They are relatively complicated pieces of kit, I couldn’t make one, but they’re not so complicated that the advanced manufacturing that this country is so good at now can’t be able to turn its production lines over to.
“We’ve been talking to a whole host of companies about it and the Prime Minister is hosting a conference call today with them to say very clearly to the nation’s manufacturers, ventilators are the thing that we are going to need, and frankly, right across the world, the demand for them is incredibly high, so it is not possible to produce too many.
“So anybody who can should turn production and their engineering minds over to the production of ventilators.”
He added: “The thing the NHS needs now more than anything else is more ventilators.
“We’ve been buying as many as we can but we need to produce more too.”
Mr Hancock said he could not make guarantees that everyone who requires a ventilator will get one, saying: “We don’t make guarantees in healthcare.”
The chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, was asked about the number of ventilators in the UK, and told Sophy Ridge: “Our starting position unfortunately has been far worse than many other of our European nations – we have about a quarter of the critical care beds that Germany has, as an example, so it’s really critical, it’s really important that we now see transparently what plans the Government has to expand that capacity.”
Asked if he is more worried now than two weeks ago, he said: “Of course I’m worried, I mean I said two weeks ago that this situation could change on a daily basis and in fact that is exactly what has happened.”
Dr Nagpaul said the UK’s lack of ventilators when compared to other countries is “a result of a decade of under-funding”.
He added: “And now what, therefore, we need to do, is make some really decisive decisions on how that limited resource is used in the best possible way for those who are going to need it.
“And that may require, and it should require actually, some major decisions on ceasing non-urgent routine care, a mass move towards many more consultations occurring remotely.”
He added: “We need to have clear plans how patients can be remotely managed and how the technology can support that.”
JCB chairman Lord Bamford said: “We have been approached by the Prime Minister to see if we can help with the production of ventilators.
“We have research and engineering teams actively looking at the request at the moment.
“It’s unclear as yet if we can assist, but as a British company, we will do whatever we can to help during the unprecedented times our country is facing.”
Responding to the suggestion that UK car factories switch to producing ventilators, Steve Turner, Unite the union’s assistant general secretary for manufacturing, said: “The calls for the car industry and others to utilise excess capacity and even switch to the production of ventilators and other essential equipment for our NHS will be met positively by our members.
“They will be anxious to help produce what the nation needs at this unprecedented time.
“But it would help if the Government worked with the unions and the industry to co-ordinate taking this forward.
“It is more than disappointing that there has yet to be a national cross-industry summit to discuss both keeping people safe and the economy stable.
“If Government is to be taken seriously about stepping up to the crisis and putting the country on the footing needed, I urge ministers to call such a summit as a matter of urgency. Unite stands ready to meet at any time. Just pick up the phone.”