Netherlands ordered ventilators from Philips just two weeks ago, CEO says

A Philips non-invasive ventilator
A patient being treated with a Philips non-invasive ventilator.Philips (supplied)

The Netherlands ordered a total of 1 thousand ventilators from Philips two weeks ago, Philips CEO Frans van Houten said on television program Op1 on Sunday. By that time, the company's stock had already been sold to other countries. The first 100 units were delivered on Saturday. "The others come as soon as possible. It depend on how fast we can produce," Van Houten said. 

The Philips CEO did not specifically address the question of whether the Dutch government's order came late. But he did say: "I think the whole world did not look sharply enough at China. It was thought that it would not be too bad." China ordered many respirators early this year. And then Italy followed with big order. "And then the stock ran out."

The Netherlands also ordered respirators from various other companies. Philips is increasing its production, but how quickly that can happen depends on a number of factors. The parts needed to make then come from different countries. And the ventilators are finally assembled in the United States. Last week there were concerns that the American government would seize the breathing assistance machines using the Defense Production Act - a law from 1950 that gives the president the right to keep products produced in the country. 

"I am in talks with government leaders to explain why they need to keep the border open, because if one country closes the borders right now, others will too," Van Houten said. He added that the enormous demand for life-saving equipment weighs heavily on him. "It gives you sleepless nights. Not only me, but also the employees who produce this. They feel this personally. The people who deliver this know that lives depend on it. That is really very important."

Ventilators are crucial in expanding the number of intensive care beds in the Netherlands. Coronavirus patients who end up in the ICU often have to be ventilated, sometimes for weeks. On Sunday, Jaco Wallinga of health institute RIVM told NOS that "in the most likely scenario, there will be 2,500 coronavirus patients in intensive care in mid-April". That is far more than the peak of 2,200 patients by end May expected by the association for intensive care NVIC last week.