• Hospital chiefs hit out at lack of information about ventilator supply
  • Uncertainty causing “major concern” among local NHS leaders
  • Government says 8,000 more machines will start arriving in next three weeks

Senior NHS leaders across hospital trusts are growing increasingly concerned about the shortage of ventilators — and a lack of information about supply — ahead of a “key week” for the health service, HSJ understands.

The NHS currently has around 8,000 ventilators – which are crucial to keep patients alive when they develop serious illness from covid-19 – but modelling suggests that more than 20,000 further machines may be required for when infections peak.

A consortium of companies – including Smiths Group, Meggitt, Airbus, McLaren, GKN and Nissan — are working to fast-track production, while the government has placed an order for 10,000 machines from Dyson.

But uncertainty remains over whether industry’s response, along with any successful orders from overseas, will be quick enough.

A senior executive at a large trust in London told HSJ: “Ventilators are the big thing the frontline are waiting for. Lots of lives depend on it.”

The manager warned there would be “big problems” if the ventilators “don’t show up”.

“It’s going to be a key week for the NHS,” he added, referring to acute demand high and growing especially in London, beginning to show in the West Midlands, and likely to ramp up elsewhere soon.

One acute trust chief executive in the Midlands said they were reliant on the centre for additional ventilators – having been prevented from buying any directly – and had not been told when or how many they could expect to arrive.

The chief called for more “transparency and justification for some of the decision making” by NHS England and Improvement.

The chair of another trust in the Midlands said they also had no information on when or how many ventilators would arrive, and they were concerned about losing out to London, as the capital has seen its spike in demand begin early, and is in the spotlight. 

London is thought to be a week ahead of the rest of the country in terms of experiencing covid-19 pressures.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, last night said trust leaders were telling her there are still “major concerns” about the availability of ventilators.

However, she added: “We have been assured by national leaders that a significant number of additional ventilators are arriving within the next week.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, health minister Edward Argar said the government has ordered 8,000 ventilators which will have a “staggered delivery time” during the next three weeks. 

“We are moving heaven and earth to get these things as quickly as we can, but it’s a huge logistical task,” he said.  

Last night the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the NHS would be scaling up “ventilated beds” in the next three weeks; and advisers have said their best guess is that there will be sufficient numbers nationally, though there may be local shortages.

He said critical care bed capacity yesterday was better than on a “bad day” felt by the NHS during most winters.