News

Media And Political Bulletin – 27 March 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

27 March 2020

Media Summary

Ventilator crunch looms after snubbing EU action

The Times, Francis Elliott, 27 March 2020

The Times reports that Boris Johnson is facing criticism for his failure to join an EU-wide ventilator procurement scheme as hospital chiefs warn that Britain will be desperately short of the life-saving machines when the number of coronavirus cases peaks.

The NHS has 8,000 ventilators in service but pandemic modelling suggests that it will need up to 20,000 more in two to three weeks, when infection levels are at their highest.

The European Union’s plan to bulk-buy ventilators, face masks and protection equipment for medical staff involves 26 countries. Over the past week, 25 EU countries and Norway opened negotiations to purchase supplies using their combined purchasing power to keep prices down.

HSJ also reported that Trust chiefs fear ventilator delays ahead of crucial week.

Two strengths of ranitidine among further March price concessions

C+D, Valeria Fiore, 26 March 2020

C+D reports that the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Assembly for Wales have agreed concessionary prices for 19 items for March 2020 prescriptions.

The list included in this article was first published by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee on March 19. An initial 24 price concessions were announced on March 13.

 

Parliamentary Coverage

There was no parliamentary coverage today.

 

Full Coverage

Ventilator crunch looms after snubbing EU action

The Times, Francis Elliott, 27 March 2020

Boris Johnson is facing criticism for his failure to join an EU-wide ventilator procurement scheme as hospital chiefs warn that Britain will be desperately short of the life-saving machines when the number of coronavirus cases peaks.

The NHS has 8,000 ventilators in service but pandemic modelling suggests that it will need up to 20,000 more in two to three weeks, when infection levels are at their highest.

NHS Providers, which represents hospital trust leaders, said that the health service had “major concerns about how quickly [the new ventilators] can reach the front line”.

Mr Johnson launched an appeal across Britain to scale up production during a conference call on March 16, setting business leaders a target of delivering 30,000 devices in a fortnight.

There are doubts about industry’s ability to plug the gap, however. Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur, was accused of “jumping the gun” after claiming that he had signed a contract to produce 10,000 machines for the NHS.

Britain did not take up an invitation to join the EU-wide procurement scheme for ventilators launched at the same time as Mr Johnson’s appeal to British industry. Asked why, the prime minister’s spokesman initially said that “we are no longer members of the EU”, adding that this was an “area in which we are making our own efforts”.

A government spokesman later blamed an email mix-up as accusations grew that Mr Johnson had put Brexit ideology ahead of the national interest. The spokesman added: “Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender we were unable to take part in these but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time.”

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the explanation of a mix-up would “astonish NHS workers”. He said: “We need a detailed, clear procurement plan for ventilators, PPE [protective, personal equipment] as a matter of urgency.”

The government’s explanation for its failure to respond to the invitation was met with scepticism in Brussels. The European Commission made clear on March 17 that Britain was free to participate. The information was passed to the government and the deadline passed two days later on Thursday. The European tendering process for manufacturers closed at midnight. Brussels sources have suggested that it went well and there would have been no obstacle to the UK conducting its own procurement drive in parallel. “Many member states are doing their own things too,” an EU official said. “It is complementary to the national level.”

Hospital bosses are increasingly anxious about the looming shortage of ventilators. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that the health service was dealing with huge numbers of critically ill patients while “having to focus on utilising the equipment they already have in the best way”.

An executive at a London NHS trust told the Health Service Journal: “Ventilators are the big thing the front line are waiting for. Lots of lives depend on it. It’s going to be a key week for the NHS.”

Provincial trusts said that they were reliant on central management for the supply of ventilators and there were concerns that London hospitals would be given priority. The chief executive of an acute hospital trust in the Midlands told the HSJ that there was a lack of transparency. The trust was prevented from buying ventilators directly and had not been told when it could expect to receive more units.

Dyson, the technology company, hopes to begin producing a newly designed ventilator within weeks. Staff and resources have been redirected to set up two production lines at a former RAF base at Hullavington, Wiltshire, where the company had planned to manufacture an electric car.

Sir James told his staff: “This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume. It is designed to address the specific clinical needs of Covid-19 patients. The race is now on to get it into production.”

Downing Street said that the purchase of the machines was subject to approval by the regulator. The prime minister’s spokesman said: “Their machines must meet the necessary safety and regulatory standards. If they do not, they will not be bought.”

One industry source said: “This isn’t a competition about who can produce the first ventilator or the most ventilators — it’s a race against time. The more ventilators we can all make, the better. It doesn’t matter if it’s Dyson or the consortium as long as they get made.”

Britain back of the queue

The European Union’s plan to bulk-buy ventilators, face masks and protection equipment for medical staff involves 26 countries.

Over the past week, 25 EU countries and Norway opened negotiations to purchase supplies using their combined purchasing power to keep prices down. Under the Brexit withdrawal treaty, Britain is eligible to take part but, by staying out, has been pushed to the back of the queue.

The plans are thought to include orders for tens of thousands of ventilators, with tenders for contracts due to close at midnight last night. Deliveries are set to begin in the next fortnight. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, declared the initiative a success for securing “concrete offers of considerable scale on shortest notice”.

HSJ also reported that Trust chiefs fear ventilator delays ahead of crucial week.

Two strengths of ranitidine among further March price concessions

C+D, Valeria Fiore, 26 March 2020

The Department of Health and Social Care and the National Assembly for Wales have agreed concessionary prices for 19 items for March 2020 prescriptions.

The list included in the article was first published by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee on March 19. An initial 24 price concessions were announced on March 13.

Media And Political Bulletin – 27 March 2020

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