Getting PPE ideas out of garden sheds and into production

Helping get badly needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) into rapid production during the COVID-19 crisis by using the strength of networks across the region has been a major focus for the work of our Innovation Hub Director in the South Yorkshire & Bassetlaw Integrated Care System. 

Putting people with ideas together with people who need the ideas is one of the AHSN’s strengths. So, when we saw early in the COVID-19 crisis that the inventive spirit and skills of the region could help provide PPE equipment for staff working in care homes and in primary care, we were quick to act.

The region has so many innovators ready, willing and wanting to help during the pandemic, from the University of Sheffield with its ‘iForge Makerspace’ – a creative lab for sharing high and low tech ideas – to Barnsley General Hospital’s in–house assistive technology engineering lab, to local schools with craft workshops, to individuals with 3D printers at home. At the same time there was a groundswell on social media of people with these skills and resources saying: “Tell us what you need and we’ll make it.”

Together with our colleagues in academia and networks in the regional health system, we were able to pinpoint the gaps and establish a supportive and dynamic online community. We decided to use the powerful ‘Slack’ collaboration platform to help kick-start the production of the most needed items such as face shields and for the community to share DIY instructions on how to make hand sanitiser, gowns and other protective kit.

Over the last two months, this ‘Sheffield Makers against COVID-19’ Slack community has grown from a handful of ‘makers’ to a resourceful group of over 60 volunteers bringing diverse skills, knowledge and networks from a range of sectors and industries.

Now the groups on Slack discuss and modify designs rapidly, have started small-scale production, and have attracted local manufacturers who have been able to scale up solutions from several hundred units per week to thousands per day.

Furthermore, given challenges and fluctuating gaps in the supply of both PPE and the raw materials to make it, some new designs quickly emerged from these collaborative discussions that facilitated more efficient use of material. A small group of volunteer developers from the group have also created a portal to help rapidly connect supply with demand.

In recent weeks, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis has teamed up with South Yorkshire & Bassetlaw Integrated Care System to call on local businesses to help join in the effort to help build a more resilient local supply chain that could cope better with global fluctuations in PPE supply.

We are confident that our creative, agile, supportive and resourceful local manufacturing community will rise to this challenge. If you think you can help or would like to find out more about this work please get in touch