A breathing aid that can deliver Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) has been adapted and approved for use in the NHS to help keep patients out of intensive care.

CPAP has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help Covid-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily, when oxygen alone is insufficient.

Engineers at University College London and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (Mercedes-AMG HPP) along with clinicians at UCLH have been working round the clock at UCL’s engineering hub MechSpace to reverse engineer the device. It has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

This breathing aid was produced within a rapid timeframe – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. One hundred devices are to be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions. 

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine) 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.”

CPAP helps avoid the need for invasive mechanical ventilation

The collaboration, supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, demonstrates the way that universities, the NHS and industry are coming together to help the national response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, by providing vital technologies to the NHS which can enable them to care for patients who require respiratory support.

Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation. CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties, but the are in short supply in UK hospitals. 

Professor Bryan Williams, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, said: “This is a fantastic example of collaboration across the UK life sciences and industry sector that could only have happened this quickly because of the partnerships the BRC has cultivated over many years.”