The mass production of ventilators is required to help those who contract coronavirus (Covid-19) and develop respiratory problems. The UK estimates that it requires an additional 20,000 ventilators to cope with the pandemic.
But it seems the Conservative government has chosen a ‘longtime’ associate’s company to manufacture them.
The UK government requested help from ventilator manufacturers on 16 March.
Andrew Raynor of MEC Medical appeared on BBC Newsnight on 25 March. According to MEC Medical’s website, the company is a “leading manufacturer and worldwide supplier of… Oxygen Therapy, …Suction, Flowmeters, Electric Suction, Regulators and more”.
Raynor submitted an application to help the government, but claims that “nothing” initially happened afterwards. On the government’s strategy for funding the production of equipment, he commented:
They’ve gone and ploughed loads of money into big consortiums to try and make a cheap, make-shift ventilator, which is fair enough, but really they should have gone and given funding to existing ventilator manufacturers and existing companies like us who could just upscale quicker.
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“The government should have given funding to existing ventilator manufacturers, and existing companies like us.”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) March 25, 2020
On 26 March, the BBC reported that the UK government had ordered 10,000 ventilators from vacuum firm Dyson, owned by James Dyson. The company, reported the BBC, “has had hundreds of engineers working round the clock to design the ventilators from scratch”.
Unlike MEC Medical, it seems that Dyson has no experience making the ventilators currently required. It is, however, working with a Cambridge-based medical company, The Technology Partnership, on the initiative.
The BBC report continued:
It is thought that even if regulatory approval is forthcoming, it could take a couple of weeks to move from prototype to the device being made in significant scale.
Dyson is no stranger to the Conservative Party. In 2009, the Conservative Party appointed Dyson as the UK’s technology tsar. The same year, he spoke at the opening day of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
In 2010, Dyson authored a report titled Ingenious Britain for then-prime minister David Cameron which, as Forbes reported, suggested “lowering the tax on income from patented products to half of the U.K.’s corporate rate”.
Forbes reported that Dyson was a “longtime Conservative Party member”. After the 2019 general election, Dyson was among 16 British billionaires to add “around $2.8 billion to their combined net worth”, according to the National.
Meanwhile, according to the register of MPs’ financial interests as of 21 January 2019, the James Dyson Foundation also donated to Conservative MP Michelle Donelan’s Wiltshire Festival of Engineering and Manufacturing.
The UK government has also contacted construction firm JCB regarding the manufacture of ventilators.
In 2019, JCB gifted £15,000 to Boris Johnson in a signal of support for his Conservative Party leadership bid.
And as the BBC reported in February 2020, “more than £10m has flowed into Tory coffers from JCB, on top of more than a million from Mark Bamford, a member of the family that owns the digger maker” over the last decade.
The production of ventilators is welcome. But the government’s choice of manufacturers raises major questions over whether it has prioritised its friends and donors over the speed at which it can manufacture ventilators.
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