COVID-19: Life-saving ventilator hoods developed in New Zealand

A new weapon to help manage critically ill COVID-19 patients is rolling off the production line in Dunedin.

The spacesuit-like ventilator hood was developed during lockdown after the Government couldn't get supplies from overseas.

The ventilator hood could help save the lives of serious COVID-19 patients in hospital.

"What it does is it assists the breathing. So it either inflates the lung or helps the breathing," SouthMed director Chris Hopkins says.

Ventilator hoods have proven successful in treating patients overseas, but as lockdown began the Government couldn't get supplies for New Zealand.

A call for help from Trade Minister David Parker prompted Hopkins to assemble a team of designers, engineers and clinicians to develop a Kiwi version.

"And everyone was working 24/7 through lockdown to try and get prototypes done as quickly as possible," he says.

The SouthMed team have created a ventilator hood they believe is even better than those currently available.

"You can easily be fed or you can converse with the doctor. You can also fall asleep easily, because your head is free to move," Otago Polytech product design lecturer Andrew Wallace says.

It's hoped the hoods will reduce the need for masks or invasive ventilation.

Masks can leak, while inserting a tube down a patient's throat can be very uncomfortable.

A patient wearing the hood is isolated from the environment, helping contain the virus.

"While the patient is within the hood, there is less exposure of the hospital and nursing and medical staff to viral aerosols," says ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr Matthew Leaper.

The hoods can be used in treating a range of respiratory illnesses.

The first batch of 200 are being assembled this week, bound for hospitals across the country.