Coronavirus UK: Government urges companies to build ventilators

Boris Johnson hopes to have first new ventilators within WEEKS after war-style mobilisation of manufacturers in fight against coronavirus – amid claims he joked to executives that it was ‘Operation Last Gasp’

  • Boris Johnson held call with UK manufacturers last night asking them for help 
  • NHS currently has 5,000 ventilators but it needs ‘many times more than that’ 
  • Government issued ‘call to arms’ to companies like JCB to make the machines
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Boris Johnson wants a national effort to build vital ventilators for the NHS to be up and running within two weeks after the government issued a ‘call to arms’ to manufacturers to help respond to coronavirus. 

The NHS only has 5,000 of the machines and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday it will need ‘many times more than that’ in the weeks and months ahead.   

Mr Johnson wants non-health care companies to step up and help build the artificial respirators and last night he hosted a call with more than 60 company chiefs to urge them to convert production lines.

Participants with knowledge of the call said the government wants to have the ventilator push ‘on stream’ within the next fortnight. 

It was claimed by one person who reportedly participated in the call that Mr Johnson had ‘joked’ the coordinated effort to build the machines could be known as ‘Operation Last Gasp’. 

Boris Johnson, pictured in 10 Downing Street yesterday, last night hosted a call with more than 60 businesses as he urged them to join the fight to build more ventilators

The person who made the claim to Politico said the PM ‘couldn’t help but act the clown’ as he hosted the call with CEOs. 

Mr Johnson’s attempt to mobilise the UK’s manufacturing sector has drawn comparisons with a scrap metal scheme to build Spitfires during the Second World War. 

Leading companies such as JCB and Dyson have been asked to divert resources to building more ventilators as the spread of the disease worsens. 

A Downing Street spokesman said after yesterday’s call that manufacturers had been asked to ‘rise to this immediate challenge by offering skills and expertise as well as manufacturing the components themselves’. 

‘Businesses can get involved in any part of the process: design, procurement, assembly, testing, and shipping,’ the spokesman said. 

Mr Hancock said before the call that there had already been an ‘enthusiastic response’ from businesses.

However, there have been warnings that components might be hard to source amid further concerns about how much time it will take for companies to change their production process. 

Experts have also cautioned that an increase in artificial respirators will be no use unless there are enough health service staff capable of operating them.

One executive told the Financial Times that industry will be ‘very supportive’ of the push but warned it ‘has to be be driven by Downing Street’. 

Matt Hancock, pictured arriving in Downing Street today, said on Sunday that ventilators would be crucial in the fight against coronavirus

Matt Hancock, pictured arriving in Downing Street today, said on Sunday that ventilators would be crucial in the fight against coronavirus

Another executive said if there were companies already making the machines and they want to switch to 24/7 production other businesses would be willing to ‘lend them people to run the factories’. 

Stephen Phipson, head of the Make UK industry body, said there are only a couple of small firms that manufacture ventilators in the UK, but there was a ‘whole sector’ that does ‘contract’ manufacturing.

‘You take one person’s product then you build it to their design, then you sell it,’ he told Sky News. 

Mr Hancock said on Sunday that ventilators will be key in the fight against coronavirus. 

He said: ‘It’s about ventilation, because it’s a respiratory disease. So we will be stopping some other activity and asking doctors who normally do other things to retrain, to be able to, for instance, use the ventilator.’