Coronavirus: Hundreds of ‘potentially deadly’ Chinese ventilators bought by UK government ditched

NHS rejected ventilators after tests showed they ‘did not function’ to standard required

Chris Baynes
Friday 01 May 2020 22:16 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Hundreds of Chinese ventilators bought by the UK government to help the NHS treat critically ill coronavirus patients have been ditched because they were unsuitable, unreliable and potentially dangerous, it has emerged.

Every device in a shipment delivered from China earlier this month has been rejected by clinicians amid serious concerns that “significant patient harm, including death” would be likely if they were put to use.

The UK government had heralded the arrival of the ventilators on 4 April as an important step in the country’s fight against the Covid-19 outbreak.

“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 for their support in security that capacity,” cabinet minister Michael Gove told a press conference that day.

But doctors in the West Midlands, where some of the ventilators were sent, wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock the next week urging for the devices to be replaced.

“We believe that if used, significant patient harm, including death, is likely,” said a 13 April letter seen by NBC News. “We look forward to the withdrawal and replacement of these ventilators with devices better able to provide intensive care ventilation for our patients.”

The medics warned the machine’s oxygen supply was “variable and unreliable”, its build quality was “basic,” and its fabric case could not be cleaned properly – vital when treating patients with a highly infectious virus.

The Shangrila 510s model, manufactured by Chinese firm Aeonmed, was designed for use in ambulances rather than hospitals, the letter noted. Its oxygen connection hose was also marked as “non-EU”, the medics said.

The letter was written by a senior anaesthetist and intensive care doctor at the Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust.

A spokesperson for the trust told The Independent: “The trust took delivery of, tested, and declined to use the ventilators referred to in this article which did not function to the standards our expert clinicians and the board considered fundamental to the care of complex Covid-19 patients.”

The government had ordered the machines amid fears of shortages as Covid-19 cases surged. At the time, the NHS had 8,000 ventilators and it was believed as many as 30,000 would be needed to cope with the peak of the outbreak.

However, that target has since been scaled back as hospitals have not been overwhelmed and many of the most seriously ill patients have responded to treatment without mechanical ventilators.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The Shangrila 510 ventilator model is not being used and no patients are at risk.

“Ventilators pass robust regulatory tests before they’re delivered to NHS hospitals. We currently have around 10,900 mechanical ventilators available, as well as 4,300 non-invasive ventilators.”

The department has not responded to The Independent’s questions about the cost and supplier of the Chinese ventilators.

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