Medtech sector seeks special status to keep Covid suppies flowing

Makers of life-saving equipment want State backing to protect supplies and production

Medtronic:  Ireland’s only ventilator manufacturer, hopes to more than double the number of ventilators it makes by doubling its 250-strong Galway workforce.

Medtronic: Ireland’s only ventilator manufacturer, hopes to more than double the number of ventilators it makes by doubling its 250-strong Galway workforce.

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Irish companies making medical devices such as ventilators and medicines that are critical in saving people during the coronavirus epidemic want special status, known as “red badging”, from the Government to protect their businesses in the event of further restrictions on public movement.

Other industries considered essential, such as financial services and internet providers, would likely seek similar protective status if more stringent social distancing measures are introduced to stem the outbreak to ensure their businesses can continue to function in this scenario.

Medtronic, one of the biggest medical devices makers in the world, plans to more than double its 250-strong workforce in Galway and turn its ventilator-manufacturing facility in the city into a “24/7 operation” in response to the surge in demand for the life-saving devices in the Covid-19.

Medical device and drug makers fear a shortage of personal protective equipment for staff who have to work within the Government-set social distancing guidelines on production lines could disrupt manufacturing at a critical time as the companies ramp up production to cope with the pandemic.

Coronavirus-related lockdowns in Asian countries where Irish companies source key materials in a global supply chain for products are creating challenges to increased production. “Red badge” status could be sought from the EU in an attempt to ease transit of key supplies across international borders.

At home, it would allow employees to continue to travel for essential work, despite restrictions on movement. The status would allow “red-badged” businesses continue making essential supplies of medicines, medical devices and food, and to provide financial and internet services.

Intensive care

“Really this is kind of unprecedented; it is a sort of exemption from any shutdown,” said John Power, founder of Galway company Aerogen, the world’s leading supplier of systems that deliver drugs through ventilators to patients in critical and intensive care.

A spokesman for the IDA, the State agency responsible for multinationals, said that it was working with officials across Government to “plan for the next few weeks and ensure that companies can continue to operate and, in many cases, provide critical products and services”.

Mr Power said his company had asked the Government and HSE about securing “some certificate or clearance” to give to their Irish suppliers to protect the supply of materials for their products.

“It is getting harder and more expensive now to ship product because of the reduction in air freight. We are trying to deal with that.”

Medtronic, Ireland’s only ventilator manufacturer, hopes to more than double the number of ventilators it makes adding to its Galway workforce, including by transferring staff from other Medtronic sites to support the “ramp-up activities” the company said.

The company has already increased production on the manufacturing of ventilators by more than 40 per cent. It is ordering three to four times the amount of raw materials to make more ventilators, materials that normally take between 10 and 12 weeks to arrive.

Designating med tech companies as a critical industry to ensure the supply of raw materials and that productions sites remain uninterrupted is seen as essential over the coming weeks and months.