Matt Hancock lowers target for number of ventilators needed to tackle coronavirus

Matt Hancock answers questions about ventilators on the BBC. Photograph: BBC

Matt Hancock answers questions about ventilators on the BBC. Photograph: BBC - Credit: Archant

Health secretary has dramatically reduced the government target for the number of ventilators it needs to tackle the coronavirus.

Health officials had originally set target of 30,000 ventilators needed to deal with treating patients with the coronavirus, but health secretary Hancock has that due to a lower case load prediction that target is now just 18,000.

At present the NHS has below 10,000 ventilators, well below the original target set for tackling the illness.

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.

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'The answer is that our goal, instead of the 30,000, is that we need 18,000 ventilators over the coming two weeks.'

Despite predicting the peak of the virus could come on Easter Sunday, the health secretary suggested that only a further 1,500 ventilators would be ready.

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But Hancock denied that the UK will be below capacity in time for the peak of the illness.

He 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.'

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Munira Wilson said the shifting of the goalpost was undermining public confidence in the government.

She said: 'Rather than shift the goalposts for vital equipment like ventilators, the Government must be realistic in the promises it makes during this crisis. Ministers are now risking losing public confidence in their ability to meet the goals already set out, whether on increasing the number of tests or the availability of personal protective equipment for frontline health and social care staff.

'The vast majority of people will do whatever they can to support the NHS, protect their loved ones and help in their communities through this crisis. In return, people want to be reassured that every single avenue is being explored to find solutions to pressing problems. With lives at stake, transparency could not be more critical.'

Earlier in the week a newsreader was left exasperated after the government announced the NHS would receive 30 ventilators next week - far short of the 30,000 it asked for.

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