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  • Writer's pictureRichard Cree

Pole Position

Updated: May 6, 2020

Tuesday 5th May 2020

COVID Figures for 4rd May

UK Deaths 288 / Total 28,734

James Cook Hospital – Total deaths – 196

We took delivery the other day of our first Ventura Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) device. You may have read about these - they were produced by a team of engineers from University College London (UCL) and Formula One team, Mercedes-AMG.

Contrary to what a lot of the press reported, the design is not new. The Ventura CPAP device is a modified WhisperFlow CPAP generator that was originally around in the 1990’s. I remember them fondly.

WhisperFlow generators were simple devices that plugged into a wall oxygen outlet and produced variable flow rates of an adjustable air/oxygen mix. They worked using the Venturi effect; a high-flow jet of oxygen draws in air to generate a very high flow of oxygen-enriched air for the patient. A valve at the exhalation end of the breathing circuit provided the pressure that is all so important in CPAP.

The original WhisperFlow system was a rather nice piece of kit for the time. It was portable, simple to use and strangely pleasing to operate. Most other ICU equipment was clunky and had a retro feel, long before ‘retro’ became cool.

So, when COVID alarm bells started ringing in China and Italy, Mervyn Singer, a Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at UCL realised that there would be a requirement for CPAP devices as well as ventilators. He dug out an old WhisperFlow machine and wondered if the mechanical engineers at UCL, in combination with the Merecedes F1 team would be able to reverse engineer the device.

Of course, this is what Formula One teams do so well. If a competitor has an edge they excel at copying that advantage and improving it. Within a month they had produced 10,000 devices. The entire Mercedes HQ at Brixworth was turned over to production. They have also shared the design and manufacturing process with anyone around the world that wants it.

The beauty of this plan is that they were constructing a device that had already been in use for decades and so they were able to rapidly get approval for their modified device from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

One of the potential problems with the old WhisperFlow system was how much oxygen it used. This was not a problem pre-pandemic but could be an issue if now, a hospital had wards full of patients on CPAP. Therefore, the Mark 2 Ventura device was quickly rolled out. This has an air intake limiter that reduced the amount of oxygen used by 70%.

Whilst the team were working around the clock, one of them was sent to buy provisions including a change of clothes for everyone. The name for the device, Ventura, came from the logo on the new T-shirts that everyone was wearing.

So, an old device has been given an air of ‘new cool’ by F1 engineering. Having got my hands on one finally, I can testify that they are a pretty smart bit of kit and certainly evoked feelings of nostalgia for the original. However, I will admit to being a little disappointed. I was expecting some wings, fins or spoilers to improve the aerodynamics and I was really hoping that when you turned it on it would play ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac. A missed opportunity surely?

Would have looked so much cooler in John Player Special / Team Lotus colours...

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