The health secretary has said the government is on track to meet its goal of ventilator capacity for 18,000 patients. However, he also admitted that may not be in place before the expected peak of the virus.
Matt Hancock said the virus is expected to peak within a week to 10 days but said the ventilator capacity will likely be below 18,000 by then.
He defended the government’s handling of the outbreak and said the army is now helping to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS front line.
He also said now is “not the time” to be discussing a pay rise for nurses, but said he was “sympathetic” to calls for them to be paid more.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Hancock said: “We need to make sure we have more ventilators than there are people who need ventilation.
“At the moment we have between 9,000 and 10,000 ventilators within the NHS right now and we have the 2,000 spare that are critical care beds with ventilator capacity should people need to come into them and we’re ramping that up.
“The answer is that our goal, instead of the 30,000, is that we need 18,000 ventilators over the coming two weeks.”
Asked how many there will be in a week’s time, he said: “There should be another 1,500.”
Asked if the country will be below the capacity it needs in a week’s time when the virus is expected to peak, Hancock said: “No, because thankfully we’ve got the demand down because the vast majority of people are following their social distancing guidelines.”
Hancock added: “If we manage to get this to peak within a week to 10 days then the (ventilator) demand will be even lower than the 18,000.
“But the 18,000 is our current goal because we want to be ready with belt and braces for a worst-case scenario rather than that central scenario.
“If I could just explain this, because communicating about these sort of trajectories is really tough, because I want to prepare the NHS for whatever might happen and to make sure that there is always that spare capacity.
“The modellers and the scientists might say what they think is their likely, central scenario, but that is no good for me because if that doesn’t happen we can’t just say ‘well the model is wrong, we don’t have the capacity’.
“It was an internal target, but I’ve just told you. So my goal on ventilators is to get to 18,000-ventilator capacity and we are on track to meet that goal.”
Hancock said the army is currently helping the NHS with the distribution of PPE to hospitals and other places it is needed.
He added: “We have shipped over 400 million items of PPE and we’re shipping it at a rate of tens of millions a day. We’ve got the army helping as well and working incredibly hard on this.”
Hancock said he feels “very strongly” about getting PPE to where it is needed in the NHS.
He said: “I feel this one very strongly because we are asking people to put themselves in harm’s way to care for others and we’ve got to make sure that they get the equipment.”
He added: “The latest figure is that three have died and it’s terribly sad.”
Asked if nurses deserve a pay rise, Hancock said: “Everybody wants to support our nurses right now and I’m sure there will be a time to debate things like that.
“At the moment the thing that we’re working on is how to get through this.
“So I’m very sympathetic to that argument but now is not the moment to enter into a pay negotiation, now is the moment for everybody to be doing their very best.”
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