In Brief

Coronavirus: ventilator shortage ‘due to decade of NHS underfunding’

Health Secretary suggests UK manufacturers switch to making respirators to combat shortfall

An emergency manufacture of respirators will be necessary to treat those who become acutely ill with coronavirus, the government has admitted.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that the NHS currently has an estimated 5,000 ventilators, but added that it will need “many times more than that” to deal with the influx of patients expected to suffer from the coronavirus.

He refused to promise that everyone who needs a ventilator will have access to one, instead saying: “We don't make guarantees in healthcare.”

The chairperson of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul, blamed the UK’s lack of ventilators when compared to other countries on “a decade of under-funding”.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Nagpaul said: “And now what... we need to do, is make some really decisive decisions on how that limited resource is used in the best possible way for those who are going to need it.

“That may require, and it should require actually, some major decisions on ceasing non-urgent routine care, a mass move towards many more consultations occurring remotely.”

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Meanwhile, people over the age of 70 are set to be told by Boris Johnson’s government to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months, in a move expected to be enforced “within the coming weeks”.

According to ITV News, the move is a part of a series of measures being prepared to prevent the health service from “falling over” in the coming weeks and months.

Others steps include the forced requisitioning of hotels and other buildings as temporary hospitals, the takeover of private hospitals and the temporary closure of pubs, bars and restaurants.

“The measures that we’re looking at taking are very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country in order to tackle this virus,” said Hancock.

Speaking to Sky News, he added that asking older people and the vulnerable to self-isolate for a long period of time would “clearly not an easy thing for people to do”, noting that it is “not an easy thing for people to sustain”.

Revealing the plan to ask over 70s to self-isolate, ITV political editor Robert Peston wrote that “what keeps ministers and officials awake at night” is the fear that the epidemic could overwhelm the NHS. This, Peston added, could lead to ministers having to make “appalling decisions, such as that the NHS would stop treating people over a certain age, such as 65”.

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