• Caution comes as government calls on all manufacturers to help produce ventilators

A body representing clinical engineers has warned it could be “several weeks, if not months” before ventilator manufacturing can be significantly boosted. 

Helen Meese, vice chair of biomedical engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, told HSJ there were several constraints on using non-medical firms in the manufacturing of ventilators, as the government has suggested.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock today tweeted to call for “all manufacturers who can support out national effort for #coronavirus ventilator production” to contact the Government Business Support team, part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

But Dr Meese said: “Ventilation equipment, like all medical devices, is very strictly regulated to ensure patient safety. We must be clear, that while many engineering companies and individuals have come forward to support this initiative, it will take several weeks, if not months, to ensure the right processes are in place to increase production of these precision parts.”

She added companies would expect to be compensated for sharing their specifications and expertise with non-medical manufacturers.

Clinical engineers would also need to make sure the equipment was safely installed.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers believes there are roughly 3,000 clinical engineers working across the NHS, although they will operate under dozens of different titles.

Mr Hancock has said the NHS has access to 5,000 ventilators — but stressed the UK would need “many more times” that number as covid-19 cases rise.

One ventilator supplier, Breas UK, said on Monday it had increased production staffing and was operating seven days a week to try and meet increasing demand. A spokeswoman said the firm was committed to doing “all we can during this difficult time”.

HSJ reported last week that attendees at an event heard Keith Willett, NHS England’s incident commander for coronavirus, say the NHS should seek to increase its critical care capacity “seven fold”; but he later said he had said “several fold”.