Qioptiq logo Raytheon Global MilSatCom

UK Based Companies Stand Ready to Support NHS ‘Urgent Operational Requirement’ Requests By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.



How wonderful it is to see companies like the aerospace and defence component and technology company Meggitt plc being so quick to answer the NHS call for assistance in ventilator production. At a cost of approximately £40,000 each, ventilators are needed to treat more seriously ill Coronavirus patients requiring machine breathing assistance that automatically measure airflows, temperature and pressure and that assist in getting Oxygen into the patients’ lungs and removing CO2.

To move forward with the urgent NHS request for industry assistance Meggitt is now heading up a consortium of aerospace suppliers that includes companies such as GKN, Airbus, Thales, Nissan and Renishaw. The Meggitt led consortium isn’t the only one answering the NHS call as another two separate consortiums, this time from the automotive sector – one being led by Nissan and the other by McLaren are working at breakneck speed to develop medical ventilator prototypes that, when fully designed, approved and possibly in production, will help the NHS achieve its aims.

I can how no idea whether the NHS will choose one or each and every one of the various companies mentioned to be involved. But, leaving the specific Coronavirus / COVID-19  reasoning behind requests for industry to rise to the challenge, design and produce this highly sophisticated specialist electronic equipment, I am sure that there will be huge benefits for all of being involved in technology products and projects such as this and where the IP will be British.

The Meggitt led consortium is, I understand, working to develop and produce 20,000 new respirator machines in order to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients in ITU’s in as little as two weeks. Fortunately, Meggitt already has extensive experience in manufacturing aircrew oxygen systems and some other medical technology products and knowing the company along with all others in that consortium I am sure that they will succeed in their mission The only possible straw in the wind could be the time required to take the ventilator design through the necessary medical certification process.

Separately the NHS has now chosen on the medical ventilators that it believes can be rapidly produced and equip the NHS with an additional 30,000 machines thought necessary to cope with an expected upsurge in seriously ill COVID-19 patients. That is not to suggest that new designs will not be pursued but that, given the urgency of requirement, the Government is today quoted in the Guardian Newspaper as having opted for existing designs that it believes, given the quantity required could harness the power of UK industry in order to scale up production.

Rather than directly manufacture the specialist equipment it is thought that Airbus and Nissan would support the requirement by offering 3D-print parts or perhaps to undertake some final assembly. Other companies such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Unipart, JCB, Dyson plus some other carmakers have also been reported in newspapers as having possibly been asked whether they are able to support other NHS requests for ‘Urgent Operational Requirements’ should these be required. I am in absolutely no doubt that all would have said yes provided it was in their powers and ability to be involved in what are, after all, complex pieces of electronic equipment.

Smiths Group Plc (formally Smiths Industries) which had been trying for some time to sell off its valuable medical equipment division just as it had some years ago regrettably succeeded in selling its specialist aerospace electronics and component business to GE (the Medical division sale is now thought to have fallen through) already makes one of the designs that then NHS uses – the portable “paraPac” ventilator – this made at the company’s  Luton site. Smiths’ management is thought to have also been in discussions with the UK government in order to assist in the manufacture of 5,000 ventilators required over the next two weeks. CEO Andrew Reynolds Smith is reported to said recently that “During this time of national and global crisis, it is our duty to assist in the efforts being made to tackle this devastating pandemic, and I have been inspired by the hard work undertaken by our employees to achieve this aim. Quite right too and while you are about it Sir, ditch once and for all the notion of selling the Medical division for $3 billion or whatever it was and which might I remind, that your forebears, notably the former long-time CEO Sir Roger Hurn who I knew well personally, and under whose guidance medical had been developed into a brilliant and very profitable global business.

Before moving on and whilst on the same subject, suffice to say that given recent events related to Coronavirus there is, in my humble opinion, absolutely no need for you to have to look over your shoulder at shareholders whose raison d’etre is, as far as I can to, to break the company up and make themselves money. Your predecessor, Keith Butler-Wheelhouse did exactly that and allowed a truly superb specialist and very important business activity to be sold to GE – not that I am about to accuse GE from not investing in that business, far from it – a business that continues to be based in Cheltenham Spa – but I personally believe that Smiths would today be all the stronger had it held on to Aerospace division notwithstanding that, for the moment at least, even I have to admit that the aerospace market is not without some very big issues!  

Back to the point and I should add that Andrew Smith went on to say that “We are doing everything possible to substantially increase production of our ventilators at our Luton site and worldwide. Alongside this, we are at the centre of the UK consortium working to set up further sites to materially increase the numbers available to the NHS and to other countries impacted by this crisis.”

Penlon, another smaller but equally important UK based company is also one that produces an extensive range of specialist medical devices and is a specialist in anaesthesia delivery and airway management already produces specialist ITU ventilator equipment for the NHS [the Nuffield 200 Anaesthetic Ventilator range].

Based near Oxford and exporting to over ninety countries worldwide including China and Japan, Penlon also has a wholly owned US subsidiary based in Minnesota. The company now has 75 years of experience in the development and manufacture of anaesthesia and other medical products including patient monitors, Laryngoscopes, MRI Products, Oxygen Therapy, Suction Control, full Anaesthesia Systems, Vaporizers, Patient Monitors, Ventilators together with distribution and service networks worldwide and importantly technical support and training. 

CHW (London – 24th March 2020) 

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



Back to article list