News & Analysis

Government inactivity causes supply chain problems

23rd March 2020
Lanna Cooper

The Managing Director of a UK electromechanical component manufacturing business which is supplying specialist components used in ventilators is critical of the lack of support from government for supply chains critical to his business.

Julian Chapman of Geeplus said: “We are currently producing key components for ICU ventilators in unprecedented volumes. Over the past 15 years we have supplied more than 700,000 devices for ICU ventilators, we currently have orders to supply more than 150,000 devices in 2020, and we are seeing requests to increase supply from more customers. Our workforce is doing overtime and night shifts, but lack of government support isn’t helping.

“While I am well aware of the need for stringent actions, our supply chain is in danger of faltering and reducing, or even halting the production of life saving equipment all over the world.”

Chapman has already written to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the advice of Business London on two occasions asking: “I would like to have some reassurance that in the event that for example public transport is down, businesses asked to close, or shipment of goods to and from other countries is disrupted, we would be able to continue business and if necessary be exempted from such measures as our business is important to address this situation.

"To continue producing devices at present levels, and beyond that increase production, we need personnel, services (heat, light, etc) and materials.

"Personnel are affected by school closures. reductions in transportation, and are concerned about health. If somebody falls ill we would like to be sure what they are suffering from, to advise whether they should return to work or stay away. This affects us, and also affects the suppliers who support us with materials. I spoke to a supplier this morning who has staff absent and has concerns about keeping his business operating. We have written a letter for staff explaining they are working in a key industry for medical / protective equipment and should have access to school provision, some are unhappy anyway about leaving their children in school.

"We have suppliers overseas who face similar concerns, I would like to have a supporting letter from the government explaining that we are working in a key industry, and asking relevant authorities to support businesses in our supply chain, and I would like to have a named contact in government who these suppliers can contact if needed, and who will then ask other governments / authorities to give similar support where needed."

In his original correspondence with Business London at the beginning of the outbreak, said that it would be helpful to have an official letter from the government which they could forward to suppliers to the effect that what they make is important to treating patients with COVID-19 infection, and requesting the help and co-operation of government / local authorities to reassure these suppliers of their continuing production and supply of materials.

He said: “Not only have I not had a reply from the Department, their telephones also go unanswered. We are now running out of production staff since the school closures have meant workers having to be at home.

“The actuators supplied by Geeplus are a crucial part of the valves regulating the composition and pressure of breathing gas delivered to a patient. In most cases, these are custom devices designed to work in specific valves and no substitute components exist which can replace this, if we are unable to deliver actuators, ventilator manufacturers will be unable to build and deliver their products.

“We are supplying key components to global manufacturers of intensive care ventilators, including several who have been named in public pronouncements. We are working at full capacity, and trying to increase this to support demand, we are asking for support for our own efforts, and for those of our supply chain to be able to increase this, and so far we do not even have a reply. ”

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