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Meeting pandemic demand for oxygen and ventilators

Staff from across the Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit was deployed to support a national programme for oxygen, ventilation, medical devices and clinical consumables which ensured that sufficient ventilators were procured at a time of huge global demand and that all patients had access to oxygen when required.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an urgent requirement to build a national stockpile of ventilators, medical devices and clinical consumables, whilst also ensuring that the oxygen infrastructure in place had the capability and capacity to support the increased demand.

The Covid-19 Oxygen, Ventilation, Medical Devices and Clinical Consumables Programme was established to fulfil this requirement. Led by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the programme employed the knowledge and skills of staff from a wide range of clinical and non-clinical disciplines across the NHS, Ministry of Defence, Deloitte and PA Consulting. This was a UK-wide programme that worked closely with colleagues in all the Devolved Administrations and Crown Dependencies.

An MLCSU associate director  with specialist procurement expertise joined the cross-government team in the role of Deputy Programme Director for the first six months. He acted as a first point of contact for workstream leads with specific support and input to programme governance, international logistics and UK storage and logistics.

Programme delivery was split into four phases. Members of MLCSU’s Improvement Unit and other teams supported with programme management expertise throughout the phases.

  • Phase 1 (March-June 2020) ensured the NHS had sufficient supplies of ventilators, oxygen and consumables to meet Coronavirus demand.
  • Phase 2 (June-December 2020) focused on improving the quality and availability of devices, solidifying consumables system and stockpiles, establishing a ‘new normal’, and reducing reliance on complex supply chain systems.
  • Phase 3 (January-March 2021) focused on solidifying and maintaining the outcomes of Phases 1 and 2.
  • Phase 4 (April-September 2021) focused on transition activities towards medium to long term operational arrangements and the programme closure and transfer into the Medical Technology Directorate of the DHSC.


For patients

  • Due to action taken early in the pandemic, sufficient ventilators were procured at a time of huge global demand, to ensure that all patients had access to one when required.
  • Oxygen usage was monitored daily, allowing for interventions to take place as soon as any potential issues were encountered, meaning that all patients had access to oxygen when required.

For staff

  • The programme issued detailed guidance on correct use of ventilators and oxygen management via the e-Learning for Health website.

For trusts

  • There were clear processes for ordering equipment, and for urgent clinical need cases, deliveries were made within 48 hours.
  • Thanks to the support of multi-disciplinary teams, trusts were supported to better manage their oxygen supplies and, where necessary, urgent works were undertaken to upgrade old pipework and install new oxygen tanks.

“Thanks to the work of the Programme, no patient in the UK went without oxygen or a ventilator who needed it.” Robert Moorhead, Deputy Programme Director, Department for Health and Social Care

In December 2021 the programme won a Civil Service Award recognising excellent collaboration across organisation boundaries.