The Mercedes F1 team has helped develop a breathing aid to keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care, with a host of other rival teams having pitched in to provide UK hospitals with thousands of extra ventilators.
Clinicians and mechanical engineers from University College London (UCL) worked with Mercedes to create the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which has been approved by the NHS.
The potentially life-saving technology has already been used in China, where coronavirus first emerged in December, and also in hospitals in Italy – the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe.
The device helps COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections caused by the disease – such as pneumonia – to breathe more easily, when oxygen alone does not prove sufficient.
Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need to be put in an invasive mechanical ventilator – equipment the UK government is working to stock up on.
Professor Mervyn Singer, a critical care consultant at UCL Hospital, said: “These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.
“While they will be tested at UCL Hospital first, we hope they will make a real difference to hospitals across the UK by reducing demand on intensive care staff and beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation.”
The first device was produced in less than 100 hours at UCL’s engineering hub MechSpace, with 100 of them to be delivered to the university’s hospital for clinical trials and then rolled out nationwide.
Production is also ramping up on ventilators, with several F1 teams involved in a joint effort by British industrial, technology and engineering firms from the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors.
Haas F1, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, Renault Sport Racing and Williams have joined forces with the likes of Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens to produce the ventilators, which the UK is short of.
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Earlier this month, Sky News reported that the NHS had 8,175 available and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had asked suppliers to build “as many ventilators as they can”.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, recently told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday that years of under-funding had left the NHS desperately short of key equipment like ventilators.
The newly-assembled group, named the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium, says it is confident of “straightforward and very prompt” approval for its product as regulators have been involved in the project from the start.
While the ventilators are based on a new design, they use existing technologies and can be assembled from materials and parts that are already in production.
The consortium is being headed up by Dick Elsy, the chief executive of a group of UK-based manufacturing research centres called High Value Manufacturing Catapult.
He said: “The consortium brings together some of the most innovative companies in the world.
“They are working with incredible determination and energy to scale up production of much-needed ventilators and combat the virus that is affecting people in many countries.”
Mr Elsy said he was “confident” the consortium had the “skills and tools to make a difference and save lives”.
The government is also under pressure to order more personal protective equipment to NHS staff.
Some workers are said to be going off sick because they fear the provisions are inadequate – with one doctor saying it seems “inevitable” they will contract COVID-19.
Global shortages of the equipment medics and carers need to protect themselves have led to shortfalls in the UK.