NHS approved to use breathing aid to assist coronavirus patients

A breathing aid which can aid Covid-19 patients and prevent them from needing intensive care treatment has been approved for use in the NHS by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The breathing aid, known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help assist Covid-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily, when oxygen alone is insufficient.

The newly-approved device here in the UK was adapted as part of a collaboration between mechanical engineers at University College London (UCL), clinicians at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) trust and a team at Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (Mercedes-AMG HPP) – the same company responsible for Mercedes AMG’s Formula 1 team.

The team of engineers from UCL and HPP, as well as clinicians from UCLH, have been working around the clock at UCL’s MechSpace engineering hub since March 18, 2020 to reverse-engineer a device which could be rapidly mass-produced by the thousands. The device has now been recommended for use by MHRA within the NHS, a crucial early step to introducing new medical technologies and devices in the UK.

 Produced within a rapid timeframe, the breathing aid took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to reach finished production of the first device. UCLH are anticipating the delivery of the first one hundred devices for clinical trials, with a rapid roll-out of the breathing aid to hospitals around the country targeted prior to the predicted surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions.

Supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, the collaborative effort offers a clear demonstration of the ways in which universities, the NHS and industry can come together to benefit the national response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, providing the healthcare service with vital technologies to assist and enable them to care for patients requiring respiratory support.

Early data from Italy indicates that approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation. At present, mechanical ventilation devices have been in short supply in UK hospitals.

UCLH Critical Care Consultant Professor Mervyn Singer said: "These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.

"While they will be tested at UCLH first, we hope they will make a real difference to hospitals across the UK by reducing demand on intensive care staff and beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation."

Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, added: "At UCL, we have an established ecosystem of partnerships spanning engineers, healthcare and industry ready to be mobilised in times of need.

“It's been a privilege to work closely with our clinical colleagues and with doctors leading the Covid-19 response in China and Italy. This close contact has helped us to define the need and respond with technology that we hope will support the NHS in the weeks and months to come."

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 rate, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs.

Invasive ventilators, meanwhile, deliver breaths directly into the lungs, but require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient's trachea.

Mercedes-AMG HPP’s involvement in the collaboration forms part of the wider ‘Project Pitlane’ initiative, which is a collective of UK-based Formula 1 teams and their respective technology arms coordinating a response to the UK government’s call for assistance with the manufacturing of medical devices. The initiative has looked to pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams, focusing on the core skills the F1 industry can offer: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly.

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG HPP, said: "The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the 'Project Pitlane' collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects.

“We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe."


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