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17.06.20

Finger on the Pulse: ‘PPE gowns made in the UK’

Throughout this coronavirus period, the topic of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the availability of supplies for our healthcare workers has dominated the headlines. Shortages have been reported up and down the country, while centrally the government has slowly sought to reign in the problem and address the vast, unprecedented global demand.

It’s been a competitive marketplace to battle in, while domestic production capabilities have taken time to ramp up to the level we’re now reaching. Around the country, there was and continues to be an acute need for PPE, from gloves and masks to isolation gowns. And up in the North East of England, one particular trust has looked to address demand regarding the latter of those items.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust took steps to work with local industry to set up its own PPE factory, producing isolation gowns directly for both its own staff and its fellow local trusts. On Episode 8 of NHE’s Finger on the Pulse podcast, Northumbria Healthcare’s Director of Finance, Paul Dunn, and local textiles industry expert, Sarah Rose, join regular host Matt Roberts to discuss the work they’ve been doing in more detail.

PPE just wasn’t being made at the necessary levels in the UK and with demand at maximum throughout the country, something needed to be done to ensure there wasn’t a complete shortage and staff remained protected as they worked to save lives. That response involved everyone, evolving as Paul tells us, from the way the local community and businesses responded locally.

Yet as Sarah explains, setting up a scheme such as this was “not just a matter of opening a factory, sticking a load of sewing machines in and getting somebody to sit at them” but rather required that input and expertise on products, materials and meeting the correct, necessary standards with the goods. As such, Sarah’s input and network were equally vital in seeing this work through from an idea to reality.

Now the vision has been realised, however, the opportunities are immense. Not only are Northumbria able to supply PPE gowns to their own staff and local staff in other trusts but they’re helping work to build a wider network around the country. Significant, vital lessons have learned from this process, with Paul explaining: “We’re very happy to give advice to any other organisation as well.

“Pragmatic advice on how they can take initiatives like this forward if they want to set them up locally.”

For the staff too, being involved in the process has allowed for the creation of PPE which better suits their needs. This wasn’t a case of selecting an item from a catalogue, ordering it in bulk and getting on with the job as so often is the case. Instead, throughout the process, they could offer their input, making a huge difference and ensuring its effectiveness.

Spawned out of the desire of the local community to support and give back to the NHS, it has also allowed the healthcare service to help and protect local industries and workers in jobs such as the textiles field which have been hit hard by coronavirus. Collectively, through outside of the box collaborations such as these, both a demand for PPE has been met locally, protecting frontline staff, as well as bolstering and potentially reviving the local economy in some sectors.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS FT’s work is just one of so many examples of innovative working throughout the UK. At NHE’s Finger on the Pulse podcast we want to hear from you about innovations your trust or organisation might be doing. Get in touch through the form on our podcast page.

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