How car companies are helping the NHS beat coronavirus

When the UK went into lock-down in March, many talented and generous people in the UK car industry didn’t simply stay at home; they started working on innovative ways to help during the coronavir...

Coronavirus story

From designing and producing breathing apparatus, to donating cars and personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers, we've decided to take a look at the many ways the UK's car industry has come together to help NHS and other frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Stepping up to the ventilator challenge

A group of around 30 UK-based industrial, technology and engineering companies, more than a third of which were from the automotive sector, stepped up to help when the Government called for 20,000 new ventilators to supplement the 8000 the NHS already had. 

They joined forces to form the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, and those involved include Ford, Rolls-Royce, Vauxhall and UK-based F1 teams Haas F1, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull Racing, Racing Point, Renault Sport Racing and Williams. 

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They undertook two main projects: Oyster and Penguin. The Project Oyster team improved an existing ventilator design by Oxfordshire company Penlon, making it quicker to assemble and turn on and off. The updated ventilator gained approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in April, and the government placed an order for 15,000 of the new devices. Ford’s Dagenham engine factory and McLaren’s site in Woking are helping to produce the ventilators. 

Project Penguin worked on upscaling production of a ventilator designed by a company called ParaPAC and produced by Luton-based Smiths Medical. Twenty-two members of staff from Vauxhall’s Luton van assembly plant have been deployed to Smiths to help increase ventilator production. 

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In addition to these initiatives, Williams Advanced Engineering, which works with the F1 team, has helped to produce an initial batch of 5000 of another ParaPAC ventilator, the 300. Speed of response methods and rapid processes derived from its motorsport background enabled it to produce a number of prototype components for the ventilator within a fortnight of joining the consortium. 

Helping patients breathe

Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, which works on the brand’s Formula One cars, has also been working with University College London and University College Hospital London (UCLH) to design and make a new Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care.

CPAP machines are used to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. They push an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose, in contrast to ventilators, which are more invasive and require the patient to be sedated and have a tube inserted into their windpipe to deliver breath directly to the lungs. 

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Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50 percent of patients given CPAP treatment didn’t go on to need a ventilator. However, such devices are in short supply in UK hospitals.

The breathing aid was produced within a rapid timeframe; it took less than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. One hundred devices have been delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with the plan for a rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country.

Next: Producing personal protective equipment >>

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