On Tuesday, the Nantwich News ran a story about an award-winning local company that had managed to source 5,000 life-saving ventilators and millions of COVID19 test kits through its UAE partner but because of government dithering over the deal the consignment was snapped up by other buyers. Not only that, the overwhelming demand from other countries has meant that they’re not expecting anymore supplies until June or July because other countries have booked “manufacturing slots” in advance.
Direct Access boss Steven Mifsud explained that despite registering with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) website (on their “ventilator challenge” page) and even with the help of their local Conservative MP, Kieran Mullan, who directly communicated the offer to Sec of State for Health Matt Hancock’s office, the only response they got was an automated thank you and a notice informing them they were ‘in the system’.
Mr Mifsud also expressed his dismay over the governments apparent strategy of asking British companies, who have never made ventilators before, to somehow learn how to manufacture them, design them, adapt their facilities, source materials and produce them within days. The general consensus is that, if they somehow manage to pull it off, it’ll be months before we see any of them. He also explains that while his company has lots of work coming in from international contractors “the UK work has completely dried up.” So it seems that the government are showing little to no interest in sourcing equipment quickly and through regular channels.
In a statement from Crewe and Nantwich MP Dr Mullan, he explains how “The Dept of Health has received an enormous volume of enquiries”, implying that they’ve been inundated and need time to respond to all the communications but in light of today’s news, it might seem appropriate to question whether the Dept of Health ever had the intention of responding to these communications at all. Certainly it looks good for the government if they can somehow portray that they’re working actively to fight the pandemic and searching for solutions to the issues being faced by frontline NHS staff but is this perhaps more a case of saying one thing and doing another?
Newsnight covered the story recently and questioned Matt Hancocks claims that the government will able to deliver 8,000 ventilators in day and that the “prototypes” were looking encouraging…
Having contacted one of the biggest consortium’s of new businesses rising to the challenge of manufacturing ventilators in the UK (which includes Mclaren, Ford & AirBus), Newsnight revealed that they could only hope to have the 1st ventilator ready for testing by the 30th March. Industry experts are also advising that it’s highly unlikely that even existing manufacturers could upscale so quickly as to be able to deliver 8,000 ventilators within days, let alone companies from other industries like Jaguar Land Rover, Dyson, JCB, Rolls Royce, who would need to adapt their facilities and workforce.
Newsnight also reported that MEC Medical, a medical parts manufacturer who actually makes parts for ventilators, had also contacted the government and offered to manufacture ventilators but had also had no response from the government. Andrew Raynor, the Managing Director of MEC Medical, explained that even producing the parts for the ventilators can take weeks to manufacture. Raynor explained that the sensible thing to have done would have been to provide existing ventilator manufacturers support to quickly upscale their productions, rather than plough enormous amounts of money into consortiums with no experience of the industry. In reality, industry experts are expecting it will be months before they can meet the requirement.
It’s with some surprise then that we learn that Dyson have been awarded a government contract to manufacture 10,000 ventilators, despite the fact that they don’t have a hope of even starting production until April. It does have some folks speculating whether the fact that James Dyson, founder of Dyson Ltd, has been an extremely vocal supporter of the governments hard Brexit stance might have something to do with it.
It’s also worth noting that in August 2016, Forbes magazine also reported that Dyson is, in fact a very active and influential Conservative Party member. The Electoral Commission also reports that Dyson Ltd donated £11,450 to Conservative MP Michelle Donelan between July 2016 and November 2017.
The BBC reported, early last week, that the government was contacting a number of British companies and asking them if they could rise to the challenge and turn their hands to producing ventilators. The BBC mentioned that one of the companies that had been approached was JCB and that JCB Chairman, Lord Bamford, had confirmed that they had “research and engineering teams actively looking at the request”. Is it a coincidence that JCB are a major Conservative donor and have actually donated close to £4.5 million to the Conservative Party over the last two decades?
I imagine that, like me, many folks might well be wondering if any of the existing medical supplies manufacturers and brokerage firms have been contacted by the government at all. These companies have made the effort to reach out to the government but they really shouldn’t have to. These are existing supply chains and, if anything, the government should be banging on their doors. Why, given the precarious situation we’re in at the moment, where time is of the essence, people are already dying and frontline NHS staff are at enormous risk, is the government choosing to engage in speculative projects before even investigating existing lines? Anyone who has worked in procurement, as I have, knows something is seriously wrong here. If you have an urgent deadline and can turn to existing and reliable sources, that’s what you do first. Of course, you might take a glance at trusted alternative sources to see if you can get a better price but what you don’t do is look to alternative sources who have never produced the equipment before and ask them to investigate manufacturing something from scratch and on the cheap, especially if they don’t have a prototype and, as in this case, they will need to source parts anyway and adapt their facilities in orders to be able to manufacture them.
Incidentally, I think it’s fair to assume that Dyson and JCB will be aware of the existing supply chains as well. MEC Medical’s Andrew Raynor mentioned in the Newsnight interview that his company had already been contacted by one of the consortiums asking them to supply parts. Why, knowing the level of urgency and the risk to human life, would these companies not simply tell the government that the right thing to do would be to source through existing channels who already have the expertise and ability to upscale quickly? Could it be the $ signs in their eyes or is this just one of those unmissable PR opportunities where they’re hoping they can pitch themselves as the nations heroes, while more and more people die as we sit and wait for weeks or even months for them to deliver?