Coronavirus: Government orders 10,000 ventilators from Dyson

Photo of the Dyson CoVent ventilator on a hospital bedImage source, Dyson/PA Media
Image caption,
Dyson hopes to build the ventilators from its UK base in Wiltshire

The government has ordered 10,000 ventilators from Dyson to help deal with the coronavirus crisis.

The firm, headed by British inventor Sir James Dyson, said it had designed a new type of ventilator in response to a call on behalf of the NHS.

The order is still subject to the devices passing stringent medical tests but that is expected to happen quickly.

Dyson has had hundreds of engineers working round the clock to design the ventilators from scratch.

Blitz spirit

It hopes to build the ventilators at scale from its UK base in Wiltshire - using aircraft hangars that were used to stuff parachutes in the World War Two.

However, the blitz spirit the company is keen to channel will not produce immediate results.

It is thought that even if regulatory approval is forthcoming, it could take a couple of weeks to move from prototype to the device being made in significant scale.

What is a ventilator?

  • A ventilator is a machine that helps a person breathe by getting oxygen into the lungs and removing carbon dioxide
  • Ventilators can be used to help a person breathe if they have lung disease or another condition that makes breathing difficult. They can also be used during and post-surgery
  • A tube, connected to a ventilator machine, is placed in a person's mouth, nose or through a small cut in the throat (called a tracheostomy)

In the meantime, the government has told the BBC that is "picking the low-hanging fruit" by buying as many existing models as it can.

Currently, the NHS has just over 8,000 ventilators, the government thinks it can procure a further 8,000 from existing domestic and international suppliers.

It estimates that the NHS will need at least 30,000 to deal with the potential flood of virus victims.

However, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told the BBC's Today programme: "We need to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

"When it comes to miles eight to 10, those ventilators that are currently being procured and ordered from around the world will be very helpful, although the lack of ventilation available right now is a real issue."

Image source, Dyson/PA Media
Image caption,
James Dyson has said "the race is on" to get the new ventilator into production

By way of comparison, the state of New York has targeted the same number of 30,000 required ventilators, even though it has a population one third the size of the UK's.

Not the only game in town

The race has been on for weeks to produce tens of thousands of ventilators to keep people with Coronavirus-related breathing difficulties alive.

In one corner is vacuum and hairdryer maker, Dyson.

It's working with The Technology Partnership, a medical company based in Cambridge - but it's not the only game in town.

In the other corner - a consortium of manufacturing companies including Airbus and GKN, which makes parts for cars and planes.

The approaches of these two groups are very different.

Dyson insiders have told the BBC they have a working prototype, designed and built from scratch, which has been tested on humans and is "ready to go".

The consortium of medical, military and civil engineering companies - which includes Airbus, Meggit, GKN and others - is working to ramp up the production of an existing design.

Meanwhile, the German engineering firm Bosch has said it would develop an automated test for Covid-19 that can give results in less than two and a half hours.

It says that it intends to roll the new test out in April in Germany, with other countries following later.

Usually, these processes would take months or even years.

It is a measure of the current emergency that the decision making process has been reduced to days.