Downing Street has claimed it failed to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because it accidentally missed the deadline.
No 10 initially said it did not take part because the UK was “no longer a member” and was “making our own efforts”.
But after critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing”, a No 10 spokesman clarified that it had missed out because of an error and would consider participating in future. It is understood the UK claims not to have received an email from the EU asking it to participate.
The mix-up means the UK has missed out on benefiting from the collective buying power of the EU. The bloc is seeking to use its clout to source large numbers of ventilators and protective equipment.
A UK government spokesperson said: “Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“As the commission has confirmed, we are eligible to participate in joint procurements during the transition period, following our departure from the EU earlier this year.
“As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these, but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.”
The UK has chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before. Dyson, the household appliance firm, said it had received an order for 10,000 machines.
Asked why the UK was not taking part in the EU scheme, the prime minister’s official spokesman had earlier said: “We are no longer members of the EU.” He stressed that the UK was “making our own efforts” in this area.
When asked whether it would be hard for people to understand this decision, particularly in light of the fact Johnson has called for international cooperation in the fight against coronavirus, the spokesman said: “I’m not sure that it is.”
Ministers have acknowledged the UK needs thousands more ventilators to prepare for the peak of the pandemic, adding to the 8,000 the NHS already has. No 10 said on Thursday that thousands of additional ventilators had been ordered but it could not put a timescale on their arrival.
The spokesman said: “We would say we expect thousands of those to arrive in the coming weeks, and thousands more in the pipeline to arrive in the coming months.”
The spokesman said Dyson would be paid for its ventilators only if they passed regulatory tests. He said there had been an “overwhelming response” from firms offering to make ventilators, and the government was now testing “proof of concept” with a number of suppliers. “New orders are all dependent on machines passing regulatory tests,” he said.
However, opposition figures said the UK should join the EU procurement scheme as well, in case it could source equipment faster.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said: “I would do whatever it takes to get more life-saving equipment, and they need to take the same approach. It’s a no-brainer we can help the NHS and save lives by working together with other countries.”
Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:
- a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly
NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.
If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.
If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.
If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
Staying at home means you should:
- not go to work, school or public areas
- not use public transport or taxis
- not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
- not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home
You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.
Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “We raised this with ministers in the Commons earlier this week and did not receive a satisfactory response. With widespread concerns about our ventilator capacity and the urgent need to scale up that capacity, we should be cooperating through international schemes to ensure we get these desperately needed pieces of kit.”
Several small suppliers of ventilators have said the government has not responded to their offers to make more.
The head of Direct Access, Steven Mifsud, told the Nantwich News he had sourced 5,000 ventilators and millions of face masks and personal protective equipment through partners in the United Arab Emirates. He said he registered the supply on the “ventilator challenge” page of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy website, but after five days he had heard nothing and the supplies went elsewhere.
He was quoted as saying the only communication he had from the Department of Health was a “thank you” and “you are in our system”.
“Time is a luxury that we as a nation do not have,” Mifsud said. “This virus does not wait for anyone and every second costs lives. I am incredibly frustrated with the British government and the current mañana attitude.” He said his partners in the UAE said they were getting responses from other countries within hours.
Andrew Raynor, of the medical parts manufacturer MEC Medical, told the BBC’s Newsnight that nothing happened when he contacted the government offering to make ventilators. “The government should have given funding to existing ventilator manufacturers and existing companies like us,” he said.