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Cambridge cluster joins forces to develop and make new NHS ventilator




The coronavirus pandemic has caught governments across the world by surprise, with healthcare organisations scrabbling to overcome a vast shortfall of ventilators in the NHS
The coronavirus pandemic has caught governments across the world by surprise, with healthcare organisations scrabbling to overcome a vast shortfall of ventilators in the NHS

In an unprecedented act of business cooperation, the Cambridge cluster has responded to a government request to develop and manufacture ventilators to meet increased hospital requirements as the NHS faces a calamitous rise in coronavirus patients.

The group of leading medical device development companies from Cambridge responded to an appeal by the UK government on March 13, just as the scale of the pandemic was being acknowledged.

Five companies - Cambridge Consultants (part of Altran), PA Consulting, Sagentia (a division of Science Group plc), Team Consulting (an employee-owned trust)and TTP plc (an employee-owned company) - took up the challenge, with Rotherham-based engineering consultants MetLase providing industrial support: MetLase is a joint venture owned by Unipart and Rolls-Royce.

“These companies represent the renowned Cambridge cluster, Europe’s largest technology hub, with more than 1,500 companies employing tens of thousands,” says a spoksperson for the unified group of companies.

“The UK’s engineering community has responded to the government’s call for help. These five specialist medical device development organisations are applying a range of disciplines, including electronics, software development, human factors, design, thermodynamics and regulatory knowledge.

“This initiative unites competing businesses during an unprecedented public health emergency. With hundreds of experts working night and day, and in close cooperation, the Cambridge community has come together to address this challenge.”

Not this one: the Covent ventilator being created by Dyson and TTP, seen attached to a bed. Picture: Dyson
Not this one: the Covent ventilator being created by Dyson and TTP, seen attached to a bed. Picture: Dyson

The companies are all working to a specification published by the government, established in response to the clinical interventions understood to be effective in the treatment of Covid-19. While working on separate, parallel designs, the group is collaborating closely to support each other.

High volume supply and extremely rapid manufacture are the key objectives, while remaining subject to testing and approval through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - MHRA. This is a huge technical challenge. In broad terms the companies “are taking a development process that would normally take five years and attempting to deliver within five weeks - and against the background of distributed teams observing government separation guidelines”.

“We’ve had more than 4,000 UK companies come forward looking to make ventilators for us and we’ve selected the best possible group to take things forward,” Wayne Bontoft at the Cabinet Office told the Cambridge Independent. Mr Bontoft added that this new project is for a “completely different” model than the one currently being built by Dyson and TTP.



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