Quick and coordinated action by the medical technology (MedTech) community helped to rapidly replenish the nation’s stockpile of essential health supplies in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, averting a critical shortage that could have endangered the lives of thousands of patients and health workers.
Figures compiled by the Australian National Audit Office show that when the COVID-19 outbreak hit in January 2020, the National Medical Stockpile had just $11 million of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gowns, goggles and gloves on hand, and just $28,000 worth of medical equipment. Across the entire country there were only 4,638 ventilators of the invasive kind needed to treat patients infected with the coronavirus.
Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA) CEO, Ian Burgess, said the MedTech community quickly mobilised its resources and expertise to help ensure the country could secure the PPE and other medical equipment it was likely to need.
“Early on we could see there was an urgent need for millions more sets of gloves, masks, gowns and goggles as well as ventilators, ICU beds and other specialist equipment,” Mr Burgess said.
The MTAA contacted the Federal Government to offer up the sector’s expertise in manufacturing and logistics and its extensive global networks.
Within days the Government asked the MedTech community to supply 7,500 ventilators and assist in manufacturing and sourcing millions of COVID-19 test kits and sets of PPE.
Mr Burgess said it was a challenging time as surging global demand and national lockdowns put supply chains under intense pressure.
“Being innovative and nimble was key. Companies like 3DMeditech and Circuitwise had to identify new sources of supply, reconfigure and ramp up production lines, develop new processes and collaborate with other manufacturers.”
For instance, Victorian-based Grey Innovation formed a consortium of 30 companies that within three months began delivering new ventilators to the National Medical Stockpile. Diagnostic companies Hologic and Abbott developed and produced millions of COVID-19 test kits from scratch and Victorian-based biosecurity product manufacturer Med-Con worked with Australian Defence Force experts to upscale its mask manufacturing capacity and went from producing two million a year to two million a week.
So effective was the industry’s response that by late August 2020 the National Medical Stockpile was bulging with medical supplies, including more than 600 million face masks, 55 million gowns, 44 million sets of goggles, 565 million pairs of gloves, 6.4 million COVID-19 test kits and 4540 ventilators.
In that time more than 87 million items of PPE and medical technology were distributed to hospitals, age and disability care facilities and allied and community health services.
While hospitals and health workers in many other countries have laboured under severe shortages of PPE and other vital medical supplies, the Health Department said that in Australia no “clinically required PPE has not been able to be supplied to a health worker”.
Mr Burgess said this was a deeply gratifying result, and testament to the sector’s hard work and agility in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
“The health demands created by the pandemic have been enormously challenging, but the medical technology industry’s response has shown that we can be relied upon to help meet the nation’s medical needs, both in good times and bad,” he said.
Media Release from MTAA 10 September