There's good criticism and then there's bad criticism about ventilators

The UK's purchase of ventilators for the Covid pandemic is once more on the news. It seems a number of units purchased by the UK are now being sold at a fraction of the price via online auctions.

Jo Maughan from the Good Law Project is quoted saying that "Government held on to these ventilators for four years before selling them for peanuts. We lost money buying them and we have wasted money storing them. On pandemic storage alone we’ve spent over a thousand million pounds.” The piece on the Good Law Project website is even more sanguine saying the £135M were spent with Excalibur Healthcare to buy ventilators 'at more than the average price.'

This is, frankly, bad criticism about the how ventilators were purchased during the pandemic. I think I am reasonably unbiased to claim this bearing in mind how critical I was then about how some the decisions pertaining ventilators were taken.

Sourcing more ventilators in the beginning of 2020 was the right thing to do and this is one of those decisions I can understand and accept even 4 years later. Putting a contract for those ventilators to be supplied quickly and 'at more than the average price' is a perfectly legal and reasonable decision to take. What wasn't ever legal was the money pumped into the design of new ventilators from scratch via the Ventilator Challenge since it would be impossible to design, test, validate and build in reasonable numbers for the duration of the first wave or before manufacturing of existing or slightly adapted models could be ramped up. Where the Ventilator Challenge was successful was in helping scaling up the production of existing models, but that was never the original intention of the programme.

There was indeed money wasted with ventilators but - at first sight - not with those which were actually built and delivered. It is possible some of those awards were illegal (ie, if the delivery date was too far in the future to justify the use of the negotiated procedure) but that depends on a case by case analysis.

Just shouting 'Wasted Money!' for ventilators that thankfully were not necessary is not the way to go.

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