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Breathing aids developed by UCL, UCLH and Formula One delivered to nearly 50 NHS hospitals

Breathing aids developed by engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains working with clinicians at UCLH have been delivered to 46 NHS hospitals across the country.

The UCL-Ventura breathing aid, a low-flow Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, is being deployed to treat Covid-19 patients in hospitals across the UK, including London, Belfast, Glasgow, Hull, Newcastle, Liverpool, Prescot, Blackburn, Manchester, Macclesfield, Norwich, King’s Lynn, Northampton, Birmingham, Bedford, north Devon, Southampton, Jersey, and Montserrat.

CPAP devices were used extensively in China and Italy to help Covid-19 patients breathe more easily, but the devices were in short supply in UK hospitals, so engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP worked round-the-clock to reverse engineer a device that could be manufactured rapidly by the thousands.

The Mark I CPAP flow device was produced within a rapid timeframe using the development facilities at Mercedes-AMG HPP – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. Mark II of the flow device, now being used in NHS hospitals, is much more efficient in terms of oxygen use than the first model, using up to 70% less – which is crucial given concerns over some hospitals’ oxygen supply.

The UCL-Ventura underwent patient evaluations at UCLH and across sister hospitals in the London area. The devices are now being delivered to hospitals across England, the devolved nations and crown dependencies in line with demand, and NHS staff can request the devices for their hospitals at no cost to assist management of patients during possible future surges. The UCL-Ventura CPAP is also part of the RECOVERY-RS research trial, which is comparing respiratory strategies for Covid-19 patients.

Two hundred and fifty volunteers from G-TEM, an automotive manufacturing company, are procuring and assembling the patient kits that accompany the Mercedes-AMG HPP produced CPAP flow device at a facility in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, and hand-delivering the kits and CPAP devices to hospitals. More than 1,100 deliveries have been made so far.

Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, said: “Our focus from the beginning has been to get these devices to the NHS frontline when they are needed. My thanks go to the amazing army of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make this happen at such a fast pace, and in particular G-TEM who have been pivotal in enabling quick delivery to hospitals across the NHS. The UCL-Ventura story is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when the engineering, manufacturing and healthcare sectors work together.”

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine) said: “We have seen the UCL-Ventura help hundreds of patients with Covid-19 breathe more easily. Deployed across the NHS hospital network, this device will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a precious resource, are used only for the most severely ill.

“We and others are finding that a significant proportion of patients treated with CPAP can avoid mechanical ventilation and recover more quickly as a result.

“The latest version of the device is much more oxygen efficient – in most patients, it requires little more oxygen than a ventilator. This is important, given there were concerns over oxygen supplies in some hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.”

Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) said: “In creating these devices, speed was of the utmost importance. We needed to make sure that they could be deployed before Covid-19 admissions peaked.

“To achieve this, volunteers have been working through the night to procure, assemble and deliver the kits that accompany the CPAP.

“It is thanks to them that the UCL-Ventura, a low-flow CPAP device, is being distributed rapidly to hospitals across the country.”

Nick Thomas, Director of G-TEM, said: “Our team has over 20 years of experience in managing supply chains and manufacturing at scale within the car industry. We were delighted to be able to re-purpose these skill sets at a time of national need, distributing vitally needed CPAP devices to NHS hospitals. We’re proud of the response of our staff who were determined to support this project, with 250 volunteers assembling, quality checking and packaging CPAP systems, and using our ‘just in time’ logistics experience to deliver them promptly.”

Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice Provost Health) said: “These life-saving devices will provide vital support to the NHS in coming weeks, helping to keep patients off ventilators and reducing demand on intensive care beds and staff. It is a phenomenal achievement that they are arriving at hospitals just weeks after the first prototype was built.”

After a Government order for up to 10,000, the CPAP devices were manufactured at the HPP technology centre in Brixworth, Northamptonshire. Forty machines that would normally produce F1 pistons and turbochargers were used for production of the CPAP devices, and the entire Brixworth facility was repurposed to meet this demand.

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “It is exceptionally pleasing to see that the flow devices swiftly engineered and produced in volume here at Brixworth are helping patients around the UK.  The supply of devices to the local Northampton hospital engendered a great sense of pride for the whole team.”

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost said: “The UCL community is incredibly proud of the entire team behind this breakthrough. This collaboration demonstrates what extraordinary things can be achieved when universities, hospitals and industry work together for the national good. The UCL Ventura CPAP device has been produced in just weeks and is now being used on the NHS frontline where it will play a vital role in keeping patients out of intensive care.”

UCLH chief executive Marcel Levi said: “This is another example of teamwork as the NHS, universities and industry come together to provide creative solutions that can be applied immediately. UCLH is very proud to work with UCL and HPP to bring a major healthcare innovation to patients worldwide.”

Professor Bryan Williams (UCL Medicine), Director of the Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, said: “To take this, in a matter of weeks, from concept, through to manufacture, testing and distribution to the front line of the NHS and beyond is truly remarkable by any standard.”

CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. They work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous pressure, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream. Invasive ventilators deliver breaths directly into the lungs, but require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s trachea (windpipe).

The breathing aid has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy, China and now the UK to help Covid-19 patients with serious respiratory problems to breathe more easily, when oxygen via a face mask alone is insufficient.

All the details required to make the device are also now available for manufacturers and other bodies to download for humanitarian purposes at covid19research.uclb.com/product/ucl-cpap, a research licensing website developed by UCL Business to disseminate technologies that may be useful in the fight against Covid-19. These details have been downloaded by more than 1,800 teams from 105 countries around the world and 20 teams have manufactured prototypes for testing in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US.

The project has been supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH. The GTMA Medical Cluster of manufacturing companies are delighted to have worked with Professor Tim Baker and his team to bring this product to market.

For more information, visit the UCL-Ventura breathing aids website.