The UK Ventilator Challenge: Achieving the Impossible

Monday, March 7, 2022

Source: PA Consulting

With the coronavirus pandemic escalating and the country fast running out of life-saving ventilators, the UK Government asked PA to lead one of the largest mobilisations of innovation, science and engineering since the Second World War. Against all odds, the UK Ventilator Challenge made sure that everyone in the UK who needed a ventilator got one. Here, we share how we brought an agile and diverse team from across the public and private sectors together to achieve one of the most mission-critical challenges of recent times. This life-changing programme offers insights for any leader seeking to drive breakthrough innovation, at pace, in complex and challenging circumstances.

In early March government modelling predicted that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), already straining under the immense challenges of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, would run out of ventilators in a matter of weeks. For many hospitalised patients, access to this critical and complex piece of medical equipment would mean the difference between life and death. Now, the government was asking us to lead an emergency response to manufacture and distribute ventilators at unprecedented pace and scale. 

The goal was monumental: produce 30,000 ventilators in just eight weeks to save patients’ lives all over the country. To do this, we’d need to draw up requirements and specifications for new designs, and engage manufacturers of existing ventilator devices, along with a host of industry partners – like Ford, Rolls Royce and aerospace company Meggitt – with no experience creating ventilators but whose manufacturing, logistics and design expertise would be vital. We’d need to source millions of parts from across the globe, and bring shuttered factories back online during the greatest period of global supply chain disruption seen in our lifetimes. We’d need to put the ventilators through clinical trials, and get them approved by the regulator and distributed to hospitals across the country where demand levels changed by the hour. And we’d need to train thousands of medical professionals on their use. 

Our sense of purpose, our trusting relationship with government built over decades of delivering outstanding work for the public sector, our ability to offer a wide breadth of expert skills, and the respect we had for, and inspired amongst, all the partners were just some of the reasons for the success of this incredibly complex project.

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