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Coronavirus: Ventilators

Question for Department of Health and Social Care

UIN HL2653, tabled on 16 March 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made, if any, of the case for using simplified iron lung machines to treat COVID-19.

Answered on

31 March 2020

An ‘iron lung’ is a ventilator which was used particularly in polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s. Iron lung ventilators are largely obsolete in modern medicine having been superseded by modern ventilators.

Modern ventilators utilise positive pressure to ‘push air into airways’ via intubation. ‘Iron lung’ ventilation relied on negative pressure to expand the lung, requiring patients to lie within an enclosed chamber. The iron lung chamber restricts both patient movement and healthcare worker ability to reach patients.

Modern ventilators permit superior ventilation and allow for a safer and more acceptable standard of medical care for patients. It is unlikely that return to ‘iron lung’ negative pressure ventilation would be considered safe, acceptable or a practical approach at present. The current priority is to increase access to modern, positive pressure ventilators.