BRITAIN has rejected a consignment of 250 ventilators imported from China to combat the coronavirus pandemic claiming they are unsuitable for use in hospitals and potentially dangerous for patients.
With industrial production in most nations down due to the global economic lockdown, there is a huge scarcity of medical equipment, sparking off a global scramble. With the UK having the third highest number of casualties in the world after the US and Italy, it desperately needs ventilators and cannot wait for local manufacturers to switch production and produce them.
As a result, an order was placed for the 250 Chinese ventilators, which UK ministers heralded as vital to the National Health Service (NHS) efforts to tackle Covid-19. However, all the machines that arrived from China posed such serious problems that they could not be used and were ditched.
Doctors in NHS hospitals across the West Midlands who received the ventilators were so concerned that they wrote to Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary, warning that they could kill patients. They warned the Department of Health and Social Care that the oxygen supply in the devices was variable and unreliable, their build quality was basic, the oxygen connection base was marked as non-EU and their fabric case made them hard to clean.
“We believe that if used, significant patient harm, including death, is likely. We look forward to the withdrawal and replacement of these ventilators with devices better able to provide intensive care ventilation for our patients,” the doctors wrote.
These machines were Shangrila 510 ventilators made by Beijing Aeonmed, a major manufacturer of ventilators in China. According to the doctors, they were designed for use in ambulances not hospitals.
On the day they arrived, Michael Gove, the UK cabinet office minister who is helping to co-ordinate the government’s response to the pandemic, thanked China for sending them. However, hospitals that then received the devices could not get them to work, despite technical staff spending several days trying to do so.
Mr Gove had said: “We’ve been buying invasive ventilators from partners abroad, including Germany and Switzerland and today 300 new ventilators arrived from China. I’d like to thank the Chinese government.”
These Chinese ventilators were part of a UK government drive to increase the NHS’s supply from the 8,000 it had before the virus struck, to 30,000, so that anyone needing one during the expected peak of the pandemic could have one while in intensive care. However, that target has since been reduced as hospitals have been able to manage the number of people with Covid-19 needing their care.
A senior official at one of the hospitals involved said: “All of the ventilators failed. Nothing worked. They didn’t have proper oxygen centres and the tubing didn’t fit. We were irate. All the hospitals tried to get them to work but we couldn’t.
“At the time we were really worried, because we feared that hospitals were going to be overwhelmed with patients with Covid-19 needing to be ventilated. Happily, as it turned out we didn’t get quite as many as originally expected so we didn’t need the Chinese ventilators after all, which is just as well.”