Coronavirus: UK government cancels order for ventilators built by Red Bull and Renault F1 teams

SkyBlue machine has been deemed unsuitable for treating the effects of Covid-19

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Tuesday 14 April 2020 10:01 BST
Matt Hancock claims there will be 1,500 more ventilators in fight against coronavirus

The government has cancelled an order for thousands of ventilators that have been developed by a group including two Formula One teams after it was decided that the device is not suitable for treating the coronavirus illness.

Red Bull and Renault collaborated alongside Alastair Darwood, a junior doctor and member of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, whose medical device company Darwood IP invented an innovative low-cost, portable and easily scalable ventilator.

While all seven UK-based F1 teams gave their input to the project, Red Bull and Renault took a lead role with their senior designers joining medical professionals in putting in 18-hour days to take the design from the initial concept to prototype manufacture in just three weeks.

The two usual rivals also united with Ministry of Defence clinicians and Global MedTech company Olympus to lead one of three main workstreams being driven by the F1 grid.

The teams have joined together as part of Project Pitlane to try and aid the fight against the outbreak Covid-19 while the Formula One season is suspended, with the first eight races of 2020 postponed or cancelled - with a ninth set to follow in the form of the French Grand Prix that is expected to be called off imminently.

Both Mercedes and McLaren have reported great strides in developing breathing aids and protective equipment respectively, but the Cabinet Office has confirmed that an order for thousands of BlueSky machines has been removed after clinicians decided that the device was no longer suitable for treating Covid-19 due to the frequent change of settings required when removing fluid from the lungs that is a familiar side-effect of Covid-19.

The decision was taken “following a reassessment of the product’s viability in light of the ever-developing picture around what is needed to most effectively treat Covid-19”,” a Cabinet Office spokesman said.

The government has expressed the need to increase the stock number of ventilators from 10,000 to at least 18,000, but on Monday the number of life-saving ventilators available to NHS patients had increased by just 200 in one week, despite the health secretary Matt Hancock insisting eight days ago there would be “another 1,500” available.

“There’s been an increase of around 200 over the past week,” the prime minister’s official spokesperson said. “There are another 2,000 mechanical ventilators on order plus thousands of provisional orders for industry designed ventilators.

“The key point here is obviously the NHS continues to have spare capacity in terms of beds in intensive care units and ventilators, and that anybody who needs intensive care treatment or a ventilator has access to it.”

The decision not to proceed with the order for the BlueSky machines will not cost the government as they had not been paid for due to the need for regulatory approval, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) yet to sign off on the device after finding it unsuitable for treating Covid-19 patients.

However, despite the BlueSky Ventilator being the main focus for Red Bull and Renault as both teams had prepared their factories to production if required, the two teams remain a contributing part of Project Pitlane.

An F1 spokesperson said: "Over the past four weeks all seven UK-based F1 teams have come together as a united group (Project Pitlane) in response to the UK Government’s call to support the national effort in producing more ventilators and breathing devices to treat Covid-19 patients.

“Project Pitlane consists of three main workstreams including a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device in conjunction with University College London, the Ventilator Challenge UK (VCUK) consortium upscaling Penlon and Smiths ventilators, and an R&D project, BlueSky in conjunction with the NHS Young Entrepreneur Programme.

“As of this weekend the BlueSky workstream was stood down by government due to changes in requirements, while the CPAP and VCUK continue apace.

“The F1 team project leads for BlueSky – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Renault DP World F1 Team – have shown brilliant dedication and skill throughout the project and should feel proud of the work they have undertaken to develop a new device with an NHS entrepreneur and will continue to provide vital contributions to Project Pitlane. The seven teams continue to focus their collective efforts on the two remaining workstreams, while standing ready to respond to any further calls for help.”

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