British manufacturers are being urged to start making ventilators as the Government battles to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Production lines will be switched so they can build the vital medical devices to help keep Covid-19 victims alive, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed.

He vowed “we will stop at nothing” in tackling the disease as he outlined a series of extraordinary measures currently being considered.

Shops other than supermarkets and pharmacies could be shut, while over-70s will be asked in the coming weeks to stay indoors for up to four months, he said.

Empty hotels could be converted into hospital wards with ventilators in rooms.

Mr Hancock said: “The thing the NHS needs now more than anything else is more ventilators. We start with around 5,000 – we think we need many times more than that, and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it.”

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However, British Medical Association chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the UK’s lack of ventilators was “a result of a decade of under-funding” and Britain’s “starting position has been far worse than many other European nations”.

The UK is 24th out of 31 other European nations in a comparison of the number of critical care beds available per 100,000 people.

Rival nations are vying to buy or produce more ventilators. Italy faces a dramatic shortage while Germany has ordered an additional 10,000 devices.

Dr Nagpaul said: “We have about a quarter of the critical care beds that Germany has, so it’s really critical that we now see transparently what plans the Government has to expand that capacity.”

Doctors’ Association UK chairman Dr Rinesh Parmar said: “Whilst NHS hospitals make emergency plans the elephant in the room is the lack of highly trained intensive care nurses and doctors.

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“The NHS faces this pandemic on a background of severe understaffing with almost 43,000 nurse and 10,000 doctor vacancies.

“It is pointless acquiring new ventilators without enough highly trained staff.”

A ventilator is a medical device that provides a patient with oxygen when they are unable to breathe on their own. They cost around £15,400.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “We have been making for some time now the point about ventilators and we need to buy up those ventilators, we should have been doing that weeks ago.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make his plea to firms today. The move could include assembly lines at firms like JCB and Rolls-Royce. In a statement yesterday, JCB chairman Lord Anthony Bamford said: “We have research teams actively looking at the request.

“It’s unclear as yet if we can assist, but we will do whatever we can to help.”

A No10 spokesman said the outbreak was a “national priority”, adding: “ We’re calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis.”

Engineers have already been asked to draw up plans to quickly produce more of the systems, amid concerns critical care facilities will come under intense pressure as the Covid-19 crisis intensifies.

NHS chief Simon Stevens said: “We need every part of society and every industry to ask what they can do to help.”

Unite union assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The calls for the car industry and others to switch to the production of ventilators and other essential equipment for our NHS will be met positively."

Negotiations are also taking place with private health firms about access to their hospital beds. And Britain’s biggest independent hotel group said it could turn its properties into temporary hospitals if the NHS needs extra beds.

Best Western Great Britain – who have seen a raft of cancellations – will discuss the move this week.

Chief Executive Rob Paterson said: “We would be willing to take unprecedented steps to support the national effort.”

Meanwhile, Steve Gillan, Prison Officers’ Association general secretary, suggested “low-risk” inmates could be freed if the pandemic puts pressure on the justice system. “The Secretary of State has the powers to look at low-risk category prisoners and just release them,” he said. “At the moment in the Category D estate there are about 4,000 prisoners.”

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