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Case study: Securing critical supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators

The department worked closely with industry, the Department of Health and other government departments to help ensure our frontline health and aged care workers had access to personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gowns for our national medical stockpile. In addition, we worked with State and Territory Governments, industry peak bodies, businesses and other government departments to support the scaling up of local manufacturing of PPE— including face masks and hand sanitiser—and other vital medical equipment such as ventilators.

Shepparton-based company, Med-Con received a $4 million grant from the Australian Government to help increase the company’s surgical face mask production. The grant enabled Med-Con to purchase seven new machines, and employ a total of 98 staff at their Shepparton facility.

Advisers from the department’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme supported Med-Con every step of the way, including by helping to find a local manufacturer—Echuca-based Foodmach—to build the new machines. A collaborative effort with the department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Defence Force, Australian Customs Service, local and international freight firms, and overseas manufacturers worked together to secure critical machinery components and raw materials.

Med-Con was able to increase its annual mask production from 2 million to a projected 89 million this year, including an order of 59 million masks for the National Medical Stockpile.

A key part of the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis was securing supply and increasing the domestic manufacture of ventilators. This helped to ensure the National Medical Stockpile had a sufficient supply of invasive ventilators. With help from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, the department identified a consortium led by Victorian company Grey Innovation as a potential supplier. This led to the creation or retention of 350 jobs across the supply chain.

These companies are a great example of the strength of Australian manufacturing and also demonstrate effective collaboration between manufacturing and different levels of government.

Further efforts have supported the manufacture of PPE more broadly. The department has partnered with Standards Australia and states and territories so that identified Australian manufacturers can receive free access to specific PPE and ventilator standards until the end of this year. The National Measurement Institute (NMI) is providing additional support as it rolls out a face mask testing capability to meet established standards. The NMI is also working with an Australian test kit manufacturer to calibrate a positive control material for use in their test kits.

Each of these collaborations has helped position the government to re-open the economy following the acute response to COVID-19.