British government backs 11 ventilator offers, including James Dyson's machine

Dyson threw project into doubt by standing down staff dedicated to its design

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011 file photo, Inventor James Dyson launches the Dyson DC41 Ball vacuum and the Dyson Hot heater fan on in New York. Dyson, the British company best known for groundbreaking vacuum cleaners, is scrapping its electric car project because it doesn’t make business sense. Billionaire founder James Dyson said in an email to employees on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 that it was shut down because the company “simply can no longer see a way to make it commercially viable.” (AP Photo/Rob Bennett, file)
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British officials announced support for 11 initiatives to supply ventilators to the country's health service to meet the Covid-19 crisis, include one by James Dyson that the entrepreneur declared was "not needed'.

The government said on Tuesday that support for the volunteer bids to make the machines would increase capacity in the health services intensive care units.

London has already ordered 15,000 Penlon ventilators from the first company that received regulatory approval for its device.

At the start of the crisis officials said they would buy unlimited numbers of the devices, setting an initial target of 18,000.

"We have around 5,000 ventilators and we think we need many times more than that," Matt Hancock, the Health Minister, said in mid-March.

"We are saying that if you produce a ventilator, then we will buy it. No number is too high."

Figures released on Tuesday showed that 2,400 mechanical ventilators made available to the health service since the start of the pandemic, with more than 250 units coming from the Ventilator Challenge.

The government said no one who needed ventilator treatment had been denied it during the pandemic.

Mr Dyson, the country's most prominent engineering tycoon with leading household products made in his UK and Singapore factories, initially said he received an order for 10,000 of the machines.

But the new design still needed regulatory approval before it could be used on large numbers of patients.

The businessman then raised concerns over the scheme when he announced this month that the initiative had been terminated.

Mr Dyson said the company had welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's challenge to build ventilators and its employees had responded enthusiastically.

But he said he was standing down his staff from the task.

"Mercifully they are not required but we don't regret our contribution to the national effort for one moment," he said.

Mr Dyson said the company had spent about £20 million (Dh91.3m/US$24.8m) of its own money on the project to date.

"I have some hope that our ventilator may yet help the response in other countries, but that requires further time and investigation," he said.

When the list of continuing projects emerged on Tuesday, Mr Dyson's model was still there.

"Technology and innovation, operating hand in hand with the care and dedication of our fantastic health and social care staff, will help us overcome this virus," Mr Hancock said.

Apart from the Penlon and an existing device in expanded production, the paraPAC, the government said it would grant continuing support to Breas Medical devices, the Nippy 4+ and Vivo65.

Two other devices – the Zephyr Plus, made by Babcock, and Gemini, made by OES Medical – were under review by regulators.

Another five devices would continue to be eligible for support before being reassessed by a further clinical panel next week.

They are: Piran Vent, made by Swagelok; Veloci-Vent, made by Cambridge Consultants and MetLase; Sagentia Ventilator, made by Sagentia; CoVent, made by TTP and Dyson; and AirCare, made by BAE Systems.

But four other proposals would be terminated: EVA, made by TEAM and Cogent Technology; Helix, made by Diamedica and Plexus; OxVent, made by KCL, Oxford University and Smith+Nephew; and InVicto, made by JFD.

There was no comment from Dyson on Tuesday on the change in fortunes.

The scheme has come under some criticism for not taking into account the regulations around the life-saving equipment at the start of the government's call for support.

The Mercedes-Benz F1 team has worked with University College London to make a continuous positive airway pressure machine to assist patients who do not need intubation on a ventilator.

Britain has been among the worst hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic with 161,145 cases and 21,678 deaths in hospital.

The country's office for national statistics has said that its delayed figures suggest the overall death toll could be 55 per cent higher than that published daily by the government.