Subject: Australian made ventilators, PPE and sovereign capability
Karen Andrews: I’m here today to speak about Australian manufacturing, and specifically to speak about the manufacturing of invasive ventilators right here in Australia.
Now, today I’m announcing that there has been a contract signed between the Australian Government and Grey Innovation for the manufacture onshore – right here in Australia – of 2,000 invasive ventilators that will be used in our ICUs. So, the invasive ventilators that are being manufactured – and there will be about 2000 of them – will become available in the coming weeks for distribution right across Australia. So, we’ve previously had announced by the Minister for Health Greg Hunt that we currently have about 4400 invasive ventilators here in Australia. We have also secured an additional 500 invasive ventilators from ResMed, which will be arriving shortly. This builds on that capacity. So, this is an additional 2000 invasive ventilators for use in ICUs right across Australia.
Now, to speak specifically about the arrangement that has been entered into and the works that Grey Innovation will be undertaking, I have with me here today Paul Cooper, who is the Chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre. Now, growth centres were established by the Federal Government a few years ago now. The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre is one of our stellar growth centres that is out there working each and every day with manufacturers right across Australia, bringing them together with researchers. And what you are now seeing is a demonstration of the manufacturing capacity that Australia has right here at home. So, I’ll invite Paul to make a few comments.
Paul Cooper: Thanks Minister. So, this is an exciting opportunity for Australian manufacturers to step up. Grey Innovations, through Jeff Harcourt and his team, they’ve pulled together a consortium of Australian manufacturers to produce locally an invasive ventilator that operates as a lifesaving measure right through from paediatrics to adult patients, and it will be manufactured here in Australia and provided to Australian hospitals and Australians. It’s about saving lives.
The Prime Minister yesterday in Parliament spoke about sovereign capability. So, sovereign capability. This is sovereign capability shown in real life. So, what we’re doing is providing capability to manufacturers in Australia, funding of $31.3 million from the Federal Government to assist in bringing this together to provide these ventilators at an urgent time for Australia.
Question: Just to clarify when we’re talking about an invasive ventilator, we’re talking about the full intubation devices? Is that correct?
Paul Cooper: Sure. Yep.
Question: Yep, excellent. And putting those together, I mean, how mechanically technical- how hard is that to make?
Paul Cooper: So, this particular ventilator that has been chosen for manufacture in Australia by Grey Innovations, it’s a ventilator that sits on a platform that is familiar to the clinical and nursing staff of Australia. So, it’s not going to require a huge amount of training. We need someone who was in critical care to- with nursing in that environment of an ICU to be able to turn around, use a machine, and not stand there trying to work out how to operate it. So, the machine is able to be used, it’s familiar, and that’s why we chose that particular platform.
So, the ventilator itself. It is a full invasive ventilator, which means it requires intubation. But it can also be used as a non-invasive ventilator, and it can be used with bottled gas or reticulated O2 in an ICU environment. It can be used in field or in paramedic use out in the field. So, it’s battery, it’s full electric, it’s bottled gas or reticulated gas. It provides the most versatile platform that we can come up with in Australia.
Question: And was this a project that people were sort of clamouring to be involved in?
Paul Cooper: Look, there’s been a huge amount of effort across Australia in the university sector. Other manufacturers- as you know, you’ve probably seen some of the car industry have stepped up and provided engineering support into various devices. This one has been chosen through Grey Innovation as being one that is right for Australia right now. There are other projects on the way as well to build, you know, apart from this 2,000, to build further ventilators for the Australian market. But this is the one that- you know, $31.3 million provided to urgently bring this up to speed to enhance Australian manufacturing, and to bring this capability to the hospital sector.
Question: Now, what cities do you foresee this being manufactured in?
Paul Cooper: So, it’s going to be manufactured in Victoria at this stage. Grey Innovation’s based down there. So, that brings together some of the manufacturing capability that’s already in in Victoria. It’s got the largest manufacturing team in Australia in that sector, and is probably the right place for this particular platform. There are other projects around Australia that are looking at other areas, other cities.
Question: And do you think we’ll see the first ventilator out?
Paul Cooper: The sooner, the better. Minister made it very clear that we need these urgently, and the figures that we’re seeing coming through that have been released are showing an urgent need to bring these ventilators to the market. We’ll get them in there as soon as possible. We are talking weeks, not many months. So, we’ll have them out. It’ll be early to mid-June, we’ll start to see the first of them coming out.
Question: Anything else you wanted to add?
Paul Cooper: It’s fine.
Question: Alright. So, the Government said it hopes to raise the ventilator supply to 7,500. What else will be done to reach that target?
Karen Andrews: There’s a number of actions that the Federal Government is taking to ensure that we have the supply of invasive ventilators that are need. So, as well as the work that’s being commissioned with Grey Innovation, we are also working to convert close to 5,000 non-invasive ventilators to invasive ventilators, so that we will have the opportunity to use them as either non-invasive or invasive ventilators. So that’s an additional supply of about 5,000. Now, there are a number of organisations right across Australia that are continuing to work on their designs, and I know that various state and territory governments are also looking at some of those designs. But from the Federal Government’s point of view, we know that we have 4,400 currently here. We have an order about to arrive and be available for distribution of 500 from ResMed. We have the 2,000 that will be produced by Grey Innovation, and we have the 5,000 that we could convert. So, we believe that we have in track sufficient capacity to make sure that we are able to provide the units that we need to ICUs across Australia.
Question: Now, we’ve just heard we’re hoping for a matter of weeks before those first ventilators start coming out. Are you comfortable with that rollout time?
Karen Andrews: Every time I’m approached by a manufacturer or an organisation that has a proposal I ask them what their timelines are, and my next question is: and how are you going to expedite that? So we are working hard doing everything that we can to make sure that we can have these ventilators available as soon as we possibly can. So I’m comfortable we’ve got 4,400 currently here that we can use. We have 35 people who are requiring those ventilators now due to COVID in units across Australia now. So we do have significant capacity right now. We are building on that for a worst-case scenario.
Question: Any idea where the ventilators redistributed to?
Karen Andrews: The ventilators that the Commonwealth is procuring will go into the national stockpile, and then our federal health department works with the states and territories to work out where the distribution will need to go from there.
Question: Okay, are some states better placed than others at this stage?
Karen Andrews: Sorry, better placed in terms of?
Question: Of what they’ve already got on the ground.
Karen Andrews: Look, they would be varying numbers of ventilators in public and private facilities right across Australia as well too. So this is not necessarily a matter of who is best placed, we will be working to make sure that we can support the states and territories and meet the needs.
Question: Question on PPE. Are you working with Australian designers so that you can use their skills and materials to produce them?
Karen Andrews: We’re doing a number of things with PPE. We’ve done a lot of work to produce facemasks, both surgical face masks and the more advanced P2 respirator masks. So that work will continue. We have increased our manufacturing here in Australia from 7 million masks- surgical masks per year to now upwards of 200 million masks over a six-month to nine-month period. So, it’s an outstanding effort from our manufacturers and I think one thing that we need to be aware of is that we do have a very strong manufacturing base right here in Australia, and their capacity and their ability to pivot has been demonstrated. So it’s without doubt now that they are capable of stepping up to meeting the needs that we require of them with regards to PPE, particularly facemasks, and of course what we are discussing today which is our ventilators. We’re also working on the supply of gowns and the capacity to manufacture those here in Australia. We’ve already held a roundtable with a number of providers. The Federal Government has sought through a request for information details of manufacturers of a whole range of PPE. We are working through that, and yes, we will be engaging to ensure that we can get as much made locally as is possible.
Question: Looking to the future then, do we need an economy wide audit to see what can and should be made here to keep us safe and secure during any future crisis?
Karen Andrews: We already have a very good idea and understanding of the manufacturing capability here in Australia. A lot of work was done last year to look at what Australia’s manufacturing capacity was, where the opportunities were for us to expand in the future, particularly in the area of value manufacturing – so manufacturing for value, not just for price. So a lot of that work has been done. It will be reassessed in light of what we have learnt through the COVID experience that we are living through now. So we will look at what capacity we need in the future. We obviously don’t need to develop the capacity to deal with the very high demands that we’re experiencing now, but we do need to have a minimum capacity in some areas. That’s been demonstrated with masks and ventilators, but we certainly will be looking at that.
Question: You just have touched on it, but I guess more directly, what industries then do you need on Australian soil in the future?
Karen Andrews: Well, we do want to make sure that we have capacity to either produce or to pivot very quickly, to produce personal protective equipment here in Australia. But importantly we need to make sure that we have the supply chains because we don’t just need the manufacturing capacity, we need to ensure that we have supply of input materials here in Australia. We do have some capability. Some of that is being worked on now. We do have a heavy reliance on overseas and quite frankly that needs to change.
Question: What is the government doing to ensure we have critical industries on home soil into the future?
Karen Andrews: So, we have undertaken work over a number of years now, but specifically over the last six to nine months, to work with the manufacturing sector about our key industries. Now, clearly that has been agriculture and it has been mining and resources sector. We have significant skills in that and quite frankly we are world leading in mining and resources and also in agriculture. We’re looking at what the emerging industries are going to be for us. Part of that is the space industry, but we also have significant needs for defence industry and defence capability. We will be looking at what our critical needs are, and our ability to manufacture to meet those needs in the future. We’ll look at personal protective equipment. I’ll touch briefly on medicines but reassure people that we do have very good stockpiles of medicines here in Australia. But part of the work that we are doing is looking at how we can make sure that we can pivot some of our already existing capacity to manufacture medicines, should the need arise.