Britain is facing a ‘massive shortage’ of ventilators needed to treat patients suffering from coronavirus, a leading manufacturer has said.
A failure to invest enough in intensive equipment means England is poorly equipped to deal with the fallout of the virus, the chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland said.
Speaking to Reuters, Andreas Wieland said: “England is very poorly equipped. They’re going to have a massive shortage, once the virus really arrives there.”
Wieland’s comments come as doctors have warned that they have not been provided with enough protective equipment as they treat patients suffering with the virus.
His company, which describes itself as the world’s largest manufacturer of ventilators, said it has boosted normal production of about 15,000 ventilators annually by 30-40%.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
He said he had shifted employees to seven-day work weeks as well as borrowing workers from other companies.
But discussing how Britain would handle a spike in cases of the virus, he said: “They are not well equipped with ventilators and intensive care stations.
“They invested very little, and I think now they will pay the price.”
He said: “We start with around 5,000 ventilators, we think we need many times more than that, and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it. No number is too high.”
Hancock suggested that manufacturers could turn their production lines over to making the machines.
He added: “The thing the NHS needs now more than anything else is more ventilators. We’ve been buying as many as we can but we need to produce more too.”
But Wieland was sceptical of the plan, saying he didn’t think anything it would necessarily happen.
“I wish them the best of luck,” he said. “I do not believe anything will come of it. These devices are very complex. It takes us four to five years” to develop a new product.
The situation is not unique to the UK, with questions asked across the world about whether there are enough to deal with the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said a shortage of the machines was a basic problem facing hospitals in his state.
He said “it’s all about the ventilators”, adding: “Our main scramble now is for ventilators. And everybody says, ‘What are the ventilators?’”
Showing a machine to a press conference, he said: “This is the machine that you often see in hospitals. It’s commonplace in hospitals. It’s just the number that we need is much higher.”
When the question was put to Donald Trump, he said: “We have quite a few. It may not be enough, but if it’s not enough we will have it by the time we need it.”
On Wednesday, an A&E doctor made a desperate plea to the government for more protective masks and equipment because he fears health workers will spread the coronavirus to patients.
Dr Nishant Joshi, who works at Luton and Dunstable general hospital, said he didn’t feel he was protecting himself, his patients or his family during the pandemic.
“We are currently wearing flimsy aprons,” he said. “For some patients we're wearing surgical masks, for some patients we're not. It's chaos all over the country.
“If a patient coughs on me, I'm a potential vector for transmission. This should be a number one concern.”