BAE SYSTEMS staff at Hillend were part of a quickfire response that enabled the company to build 1,000 ventilators a week to treat COVID-19 patients and save lives.

The UK Government asked industry to ramp up production and, at the end of March, indicated that 30,000 of the machines, which take over the body's breathing process when disease has caused the lungs to fail, would be needed.

As well as joining the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, BAE managed to design and build a brand new ventilator, the AirCare model, in a matter of weeks.

Dave Rollo, head of programme management at Hillend, said: “On hearing of the ventilator challenge programme, we modified our facilities to prepare for safe working conditions.

"Within 24 hours, staff had returned, working night and day over a two- to three-week period to support the urgent build programme for the NHS.

“It was a magnificent effort using all our procurement, engineering and manufacturing teams’ skills to build product in quick time, knowing that every ventilator produced could save someone’s life.

"The team also collaborated with other local companies, including Dynamic EMS, who carried out a support role manufacturing one of the key parts on the programme.

“It was a real pleasure and honour for all the staff at Hillend to be involved in the AirCare programme and to be able to directly contribute to the COVID-19 relief cause.”

The new ventilator was designed to be built from readily-available parts that could be manufactured rapidly.

Employees from Hillend worked on sophisticated circuit boards and electronics for the new model and, following input from senior NHS clinicians, it became apparent the AirCare design was best suited to treat COVID-19.

Within three weeks, and with help from BAE sites across the country, they went from concept through design and development to production, allowing BAE to build more than 1,000 units per week.

This type of process would normally take a year.

Ben Hudson, chief technology officer of BAE Systems, said: "I think I speak for everyone in the AirCare project team and across the company by acknowledging the true heroes in the fight against COVID-19 are the men and women of our health services that put themselves in harm’s way every day to keep all of us safe.

"The efforts made by those that contributed to the AirCare project is our small way of demonstrating how much we truly value the sacrifices made by our healthcare workers on behalf of all of us.”

Mercifully, ventilators have not been required in the numbers estimated originally.

Mr Hudson added: "While the AirCare ventilator will not being going into large-scale production for the immediate UK response to COVID-19, it is a clear testament to the ingenuity of our people and the innovation within our business.

"We are proud to have played our part in responding to the call for help from the Government and stand by to help further in any way we can."