Downing Street has declined to take part in an EU scheme to source life-saving ventilators to treat coronavirus because the UK is “no longer a member” and is “making our own efforts”.
Critics accused Boris Johnson of putting “Brexit over breathing” after No 10 said it did not need to participate in the EU effort to procure equipment to fight coronavirus.
The EU has said it is open to the UK taking part in the programme, which seeks to use its bulk-buying power to get new ventilators at the best price.
The UK has instead chosen to source ventilators from British manufacturers who have never made the products before, ordering 10,000 machines from the household appliance firm Dyson.
Asked why the UK was not taking part, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are no longer members of the EU.” He also stressed that the UK was “making our own efforts” in this area.
When asked whether it would be hard for people to understand this decision, particularly in the light of the fact Johnson has called for international cooperation in the fight against coronavirus, the spokesman said: “I’m not sure that it is.”
Ministers have acknowledged the UK needs thousands more ventilators to prepare for the peak of the pandemic, adding to the 8,000 the NHS already has.
No 10 said on Thursday that 8,000 additional ventilators had been ordered to boost its stock but it could not put a timescale on their arrival.
The spokesman said: “We would say we expect thousands of those to arrive in the coming weeks, and thousands more in the pipeline to arrive in the coming months.”
The spokesman said Dyson would only be paid for the 10,000 ventilators ordered by the government if they passed the required regulatory tests. He said there had been an “overwhelming response” from firms offering to make ventilators and that the government was now testing “proof of concept” with a number of suppliers.
“New orders are all dependent on machines passing regulatory tests,” he said.
However, opposition figures said the UK should be joining the EU procurement scheme as well, in case it could source equipment faster.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said she was “deeply shocked and concerned by the government’s decision not to participate”.
“I would do whatever it takes to get more lifesaving equipment, and they need to take the same approach. It’s a no brainer we can help the NHS and save lives by working together with other countries,” she said.
“I wrote to the government a week ago urging them to put pragmatism above ideological considerations and urgently opt into the EU joint procurement scheme. Now I urge them to reconsider their devastating decision to not participate. We can’t put Brexit over breathing; lives must come first.”
Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:
NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they’re at home for longer than 14 days.
If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.
If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.
If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
Staying at home means you should:
You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.
Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “We raised this with ministers in the Commons earlier this week and did not receive a satisfactory response.
“With widespread concerns about our ventilator capacity and the urgent need to scale up that capacity, we should be cooperating through international schemes to ensure we get these desperately needed pieces of kit.”
His fellow Labour MP David Lammy said: “Why on earth would we not take part in an EU scheme to procure ventilators that we were invited to be part of? I sincerely hope there is a good reason and No 10 is not putting ideology ahead of people’s lives.”
Several small suppliers of ventilators have said the government has not responded to their offers to make more.
The head of Direct Access, Steven Mifsud, told the Nantwich News he had sourced 5,000 ventilators and millions of face masks and personal protective equipment through its United Arab Emirates partners. He registered the supply on the “ventilator challenge” page of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy website, but after five days he had hear nothing and the supplies went elsewhere.
He is quoted saying the only communication he had from the Department of Health was a “thank you” and “you are in our system”.
“Time is a luxury that we as a nation do not have,” Mifsud said. “This virus does not wait for anyone and every second costs lives. I am incredibly frustrated with the British government and the current ‘manana’ attitude.”
He said his partners in the UAE said they were getting responses from other countries within hours.
Andrew Raynor, of the medical parts manufacturer MEC Medical, told the BBC’s Newsnight that nothing happened when he contacted the government offering to make ventilators.
“The government should have given funding to existing ventilator manufacturers, and existing companies like us,” he said.