News & Views
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Supporting the rapid procurement of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic
MLCSU seconded over a senior member of staff with specialist procurement expertise to support the government’s ventilator procurement programme.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals in England had 7,400 ventilators. These were needed to help those most severely affected by the virus, who were struggling to breathe. Experts warned that the NHS could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and would need 90,000 beds with ventilators to cope. As the virus spread, global demand for ventilators rocketed resulting in increased competition.
The estimate of ventilators needed in England was later revised down to 17,500.
The government set out to buy as many machines as possible and encouraged UK manufacturers to make new ones. MLCSU seconded over a senior member of staff with specialist procurement expertise to support this vital work for six months.
In March Steve Wainwright joined a cross-government team lead by NHS England and NHS Improvement in the role of Deputy Programme Director to support the Programme Director and the wider programme, providing additional capacity at the height of demand for oxygen, ventilation, medical devices and consumables. Steve deputised for the Programme Director and 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.
The NHS now has access to over 30,000 mechanical and 15,000 non-invasive ventilators. This is more than three times as many as it had at the start of the pandemic.
In its report published in September 2020, The National Audit Office concluded ministers prioritised speed over cost but used taxpayers’ money responsibly.
At the spring peak of coronavirus, 6,818 of 10,900 ventilators available across the UK were being used to treat patients in England.
More ventilators are in storage in warehouses, ready to be quickly put into use should the need arise during a second wave of the pandemic.
The government has also bought 17,800 other non-invasive oxygen therapy devices for the NHS, such as continuous positive airway pressure machines.
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