Health · June 17, 2022

Canada has a massive surplus of unused ventilators

In response to the crisis, the federal government quickly ordered just over 40,000 ventilators at a cost of CA$1.1 billion, the vast majority from Canadian manufacturers, who began building the life-saving machines from scratch.

At the time, it was billed as a track record of Canadian ingenuity and entrepreneurship. As of May 2021, more than 27,000 ventilators have been shipped. But the worst-case pandemic scenarios never materialized, and most machines were never needed.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the federal government has received 27,687 of the 40,000 ventilators ordered. Of these, only 2,048 have been deployed, including several hundred that have been donated to developing countries.

A total of 25,964 ventilators are in the National Strategic Emergency Stockpile, a reserve of medical and emergency supplies that provinces and territories can request when they run out.

Public Services and Procurement Canada is working with suppliers to reduce quantities ordered. The ministry won’t say how much of the CA$1.1 billion was paid to suppliers or if the government will save some of that money by canceling orders.

“The Canadian government is working with Canadian suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce quantities on order and provide support when these contracts expire,” a spokesman said in a statement. “As negotiations are currently ongoing, we are unable to provide any further details on the payment at this time.”

Infection epidemiologist Colin Furness said the ventilator surplus is a “beautiful problem” given the nightmare scenarios doctors in New York and Italy faced at the start of the pandemic.

“Under these conditions, I think it was a very understandable decision to order a large number of ventilators,” he said. “When I have these, I sleep a little better at night.”

But he also raised questions about how much maintenance the stockpile machines will need to keep them in good working order.

A government website lists 15 suppliers with whom the government has signed ventilator contracts, but the largest are with five Canadian suppliers: CAE Inc., Canadian Emergency Ventilators Inc. (led by StarFish Medical), EPM Global Services Inc., Thornhill Medical and FTI Professional Grade Inc., a consortium of companies formed at the initiative of Rick Jamieson, an auto parts manufacturer.

FTI Professional Grade was under investigation in late 2020 over the involvement of a former Liberal MP, Frank Baylis. The consortium hired Baylis Medical as a subcontractor to help manufacture the machines, but Jamieson and Baylis insisted that his political career had nothing to do with his participation in the project.

FTI was awarded a CAD$237 million order for 10,000 ventilators, which the consortium said would be fully delivered by the end of 2020. According to the PHAC, 9,056 of these ventilators are now in emergency stocks. A total of 403 machines were distributed across the country, while 539 were donated to India, Nepal and Pakistan. Two units were returned to the supplier.