Britons spending thousands of pounds on counterfeit and unsafe medical devices during the COVID-19 pandemic

A customer recently drew my attention to articles from various credible sources (including Tatler and The Guardian) about ‘must have’ medical devices for the home, in the context of Coronavirus. These articles are very well-meaning, but I feel they should come with proper guidance.

 

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit us in the UK, our business saw a surge in sales of devices such as pulse oximeters. Unfortunately, however, this surge in demand did not go unnoticed from opportunists, and within a few weeks, anyone with a website and/or eBay account was stocked up with pulse oximeters. The vast majority of these are fakes, produced by factories who create counterfeit versions of the popular Contec Medical CMS50DL. They are made to look almost identical and are often advertised by unscrupulous sellers as the genuine thing, but they have no CE certificate and with nobody checking their accuracy levels, are potentially not even fit for purpose. Unfortunately, HMRC never seems to find and stop these devices from coming into the country. They are supplied from China at only $8 apiece, and sold by companies with absolutely no expertise in medical products for a massive markup – around £20-25 each.

 

We simply cannot compete with this pricing (even our factory pricing is nowhere close to what they can sell for, retail), and inevitably, demand has greatly reduced, as the vast majority of people seeking pulse oximeters get directed to listings of counterfeit devices. The manufacturer is helping us to report fraudulent listings to sites like eBay, but new ones appear as fast as they’re taken down.

 

Nearly all the major newspapers and news sites have recommended pulse oximeters for the home, and are inadvertently sending thousands of people off to buy equipment that may prove to be at best ineffective, and at worst misleading and dangerous. These are not simply words from a business that has seen a sudden reduction in sales. These are the words of medical professionals who have worked for years in the NHS. We don’t only have customers, we also have patients, and our patients – cardiac patients – are among the most vulnerable to this disease.

 

At the very least, people should only buy from websites or listings where it is clear who the manufacturer of the device they are buying is (to prevent them from buying mickey mouse equipment), and which displays some kind of evidence that the seller is an authorised distributor of that company (to prevent them from buying from people claiming their equipment is something it is not).

 

Our main guidance for buying a pulse oximeter at the present time is as follows:

 

  • Manufacturer: Know who the manufacturer of the equipment is, and check this against the product you receive. Substandard products will either have made up manufacturer names (so when you search for the name of the manufacturer, you won’t find the manufacturer’s website), or will claim to be something that they are not. The most popular, and therefore most frequently copied pulse oximeter, is the Contec Medical CMS50DL, but often, the product received is called something completely different.
  • Price: Since COVID-19, the cost of genuine medical devices has more than doubled for suppliers. Supply chains have broken down and many manufacturers have had to buy parts from alternative, more expensive sources. While pulse oximeters used to be as cheap as £25, it would be almost impossible – in the present climate – to find a certified product for less than £35, particularly on sites like eBay and Amazon where sellers have to factor in the cost of fees. Unbelievably low pricing should be an instant red flag. For the best genuine deals, try and buy direct from medical companies – not from third party sites like eBay and Amazon.
  • CE Certificate: If in any doubt, ask to see the CE certificate of the device (don’t simply believe product descriptions that claim the device has CE certification). The CE certificate will also list who the true manufacturer is. You could also ask to see a letter of authorisation from the manufacturer, showing that the company selling you the device is an authorised distributor. Here’s ours: