Coronavirus: Government investigating failure to take up offer of 25,000 ventilators

Cheshire firm says it also told Department of Health it could secure 50 million coronavirus testing kits – but received no response

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 29 March 2020 16:43 BST
Michael Gove on unanswered emails regarding ventilators

A blunder that may have seen the UK miss out on an offer of 25,000 life-saving ventilators will be investigated, Michael Gove says.

A Cheshire company says it also told the Department of Health it could secure 50 million coronavirus testing kits – but its email went unanswered for two weeks.

The ventilators were then snapped up by other countries, Direct Access has revealed, adding to criticism of ministers for failing to prepare for an expected deluge of desperately ill patients.

Quizzed about what went wrong, Mr Gove said: “I’m very sorry if that company says that it didn’t get a reply, I’ll investigate.”

The controversy comes amid fierce criticism of Boris Johnson’s failure to take up the EU’s offer to jointly obtain ventilators, to tackle an anticipated shortage in the crucial weeks to come.

The NHS has only 8,000 ventilators – when 30,000 are likely to be needed – and only a further 8,000 are expected to be ready before the expected peak of the epidemic, in mid-April.

Andy Faulkner, the manager of Topland, a Dubai firm helping Direct Access obtain ventilators, said the two companies offered the government 5,000 units a week over five weeks – but initially received no response.

“No one seemed to be taking us seriously,” he revealed, adding: “They asked us to register on the ventilation website, which we did, and then waited another five days for any response.”

Mr Faulkner said all stock had now gone and that it would be June or July before any orders placed this week could be fulfilled.

“If only action had been taken three weeks ago, when we made the offer, the client would have had at least 10,000 units with another 15,000 due for delivery over the next couple of weeks.

“All very frustrating and extremely sad when lives are depending on this equipment.”

Appearing on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gove said: “It is the case that, for companies that have got in touch with the government, those offers of help have been forwarded to the relevant people in the NHS in order to make sure we secure those supplies.

“If that company wants to get in touch directly with me, we’ll investigate, because there have been some cases where people had hoped they might be able to help, but in fact the material that they produce has not met the NHS specifications.”

He insisted: “We have been following up every single lead presented to us.”

The comments came as Mr Gove admitted the coronavirus lockdown is likely to last longer than three weeks, saying: “I wish I could predict when this will end.”

He also refused to back scientists who have suggested the peak of the outbreak will now be in mid-April, rather than late May or early June as originally expected.

“The date of the peak depends on all of our behaviour – it’s not a fixed date in the calendar like Easter,” he said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in