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Lack of coronavirus ventilators will see more die, Stormont Executive warned

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There is an urgent need for machines

There is an urgent need for machines

POOL/AFP via Getty Images

There is an urgent need for machines

The Department of Health (DoH) has been warned that unless it steps up efforts to address Northern Ireland's shortage of ventilators, more lives will be lost due to Covid-19.

Health Minister Robin Swann has confirmed he is working to secure an additional 650 respiratory machines - more than quadrupling the present numbers.

There are currently 139 mechanical ventilators available across the Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.

However, by next Tuesday Northern Ireland will have only 179 ventilators - the equivalent of one for every 10,614 people.

In comparison the Republic of Ireland has one ventilator for every 3,769 people and in the US, one for every 1,941 people.

In the short-term, Mr Swann said an additional 40 mechanical ventilators (30 adult units and 10 paediatric units) have been ordered, bringing the total available in Northern Ireland to 179 by the end of March.

The order of 650 new units is made up of 100 mechanical ventilators, 250 non-invasive ventilators and 300 Airvo.

It is envisaged that 250 units will be used in critical care - 100 mechanical ventilators, 100 Airvo and 50 non-invasive ventilators with 400 units (200 Airvo and 200 non-invasive ventilators) being deployed in pre and post-critical care settings for the care of coronavirus patients.

But Gerry Carroll, of People Before Profit, said ventilator shortages have been known about for months, adding that the Executive has been "very slow" to address this issue.

The MLA for West Belfast said: "Even with the new order of 650 ventilators, we will still have a shortage, and if that continues, people will die.

"These ventilators are produced on this island and exported around the world - it is ludicrous that we would have any kind of shortage at all.

"I am calling on Robin Swann to work with the Health Minister in the South to requisition whatever ventilators have been produced, and those in the private sector, and to urgently mass produce more."

The department says it has been in contact with a manufacturer in the Republic regarding ventilators and said discussions are ongoing as to whether they will be appropriate for use here.

SDLP Public Health spokesman Justin McNulty told the Belfast Telegraph: "Whilst the number of ventilators per capita in comparison with other jurisdictions does not fill you with confidence, I know the health service is doing all it can to seek further machines, which will be coming on stream in the coming week or so."

Northern Ireland companies have also responded to the national call for businesses to help make ventilators and ventilator components.

Mr McNulty says innovation will be key when it comes to tackling coronavirus and saving lives.

"If we can't get proper medical ventilators we should look for a way for our brilliant manufacturing capability to produce a makeshift option that may not be of medical standard but still capable of saving lives.

"My call is for entrepreneurs, manufacturers, universities, business people to partner with the department and combine their efforts adopting an 'outside the box' approach to hack dormant or active production facilities here to fabricate fit for purpose ventilators.

"This shared enterprise would ensure we minimise the number of people whose lives are lost through not having access to ventilators at the peak of the virus," the Newry and South Armagh MLA added.

The department says as well as the machines, additional trained staff will also be necessary.

A DoH spokesperson said: "Further work is under way to scope the full extent of critical care and other respiratory equipment as well as staffing required to ensure we can respond to the potential number of people who will need such specialised care."

Belfast Telegraph