A manufacturing industry leader and member of the government’s ventilator taskforce says he is “very confident” there will be enough of the life-saving machines to meet even the most dire of Covid-19 scenarios.
The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre managing director, Dr Jens Goennemann, is part of the team working with the federal government to boost ventilator numbers ahead of the pandemic’s peak.
The worst-affected parts of the globe – Italy and the United States, most notably – have experienced serious shortages of ventilators, which are needed to assist the failing lungs of the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients.
Modelling released on Monday found Australia had the capacity to surge intensive care beds by 189%, if needed, but currently only had enough ventilators to partially meet that maximum surge capacity. The study recommended priority be given to boosting ventilator availability and increasing the health workforce needed to operate the machines.
The government has been working aggressively to try to prevent any shortfall in ventilator numbers, ramping up domestic production, procuring from abroad and converting existing equipment in preparation.
In an interview with the Guardian, Goennemann said Australia’s strategy on ventilators had four main elements. They were:
Activate the reserves. This includes drawing on existing equipment, including ventilators currently in veterinary clinics. A separate study in the Medical Journal of Australia found 188 invasive ventilators existed in 120 veterinary facilities, of which 179 were human model ventilators.
Purchase from overseas via existing suppliers, including from German company Draeger, which specialises in breathing and protective equipment.
Purchase from existing domestic manufacturers, most notably Melbourne-based company Resmed. An order has been placed for 1,000 new Resmed ventilators, and the company says it expects to double or triple its production.
Activate additional domestic manufacturers. The AMGC is supporting a consortium of local manufacturers to adopt an existing ventilator design, owned by companies abroad, for onshore production.
Goennemann, who has been helping government with projections of ventilator numbers, would not say how many new ventilators the strategy would yield.
But he said it would be enough to meet demand.
“I can tell you when I look at the current corona figures, I am very confident that the supply and availability of invasive ventilators will be higher than the necessity, even in dire scenarios,” he said.
The AMGC, an industry-led not-for-profit, has been helping government and the local manufacturing sector identify existing businesses that could pivot into Covid-19-related work. That includes the manufacturing of personal protective equipment, hand sanitiser, and, in some cases, the more complex task of ventilator supply.
Modelling on ICU capacity released this week in the Medical Journal of Australia found there were currently 2,378 beds in 191 ICUs across Australia, about 9.4 beds per 100,000 population.
There was capacity to surge the number of ICU beds by an additional 4,261 (189%) if needed.
The study found an additional 2,361 invasive ventilators (120%) were available for such a surge, leaving “overall insufficient availability of invasive ventilators within the hospitals of respondent ICUs to meet maximal bed surge”.
The study used Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (Anzics) registries data, supplemented by a surge capacity survey of ICUs and a survey of veterinary clinics.
The Anzics president, Dr Anthony Holley, has stated there was no current ventilator shortage and that Australia has significant ICU surge capacity.
Holley said there was some potential for a temporary deficit of ventilators “should more surge beds be required”.
But he said: “A number of agencies, and most importantly the government, are working very aggressively to mitigate any potential shortfall.”
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth, who is leading the government’s ventilator expansion program, said there were about 2,200 ventilated intensive care beds in Australia, only 20 of which were currently being used for Covid-19.
Coatsworth said an immediate expansion can increase that number to 4,400.
“Our target capacity for ventilated intensive care beds in Australia currently stands at 7,500,” he said.
“We are working around the clock to procure ventilators. I can tell you today that, locally, we will have 500 intensive care ventilators fabricated by ResMed, backed up by 5,000 non-invasive ventilators, with full delivery expected by the end of April.”
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association’s chief executive, Alison Verhoeven, has also expressed confidence in Australia’s planning for ventilator supply.
Verhoeven said the challenge would be ensuring they were used in a way that covered as much of the population as possible, particularly in rural and regional areas.