An instructor from the BFBS Academy has joined the volunteer army of people rallying to support the NHS by printing sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) and delivering it to a hospital intensive care unit.
Tim Walford, 27, Technical Instructor at BFBS Academy, has so far printed 50 face masks and 70 ear savers on two 3D printers and delivered them to his local hospital, St Helier, in Carshalton near Epsom in Surrey.
He is expecting to deliver more in the coming days.
Tim said he wanted to do his part to support the National Health Service in their fight against COVID-19 after a colleague sent him a news report about what other people were doing to help supply health keyworkers with protective clothing – and it inspired him to use his own technical skills to join the effort.
He looked up the technical details of NHS PPE to follow the design required by the health service before setting about printing up batches of the protective gear that could help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Tim said he collected the Academy printer and some supplies before starting printing, adding:
“The design files were available online for free, I just modified them a bit to work better and faster on our printer.”
He even secured another 3D printer to use so that he could ramp up production, with the backing of the BFBS Academy which supplied the equipment and supplies to support Tim’s efforts.
He said: "I know a sister of an ICU at my local hospital. I asked her if she wanted them and she bit my hand off immediately.
"She also asked if I could make some ear saver strips because the surgical masks they use have been giving people blisters on their ears."
The 50 face masks and 70 ear savers produced by Tim are now being used in the hospital, with the gratitude of the NHS staff.
Tim added: "As soon as I saw it was possible I just thought 'Well, if I have the equipment and the skills I should absolutely be using them.'"
June MacMahon, Principal of the BFBS Academy which provides veterans and service leavers with multi-media training, has been supportive of Tim’s volunteer venture, saying: “I am enormously proud of our Technical instructor, Tim, for utilising his broad skillset to support the NHS during this time of national emergency.”
Do Face Shields Work To Protect Against Coronavirus?
Medical research is still debating the effectiveness of face masks to limit infection of viral illnesses but the overall evidence has so far suggested there may be a limited benefit to wearing some kind of face covering – particularly those who are likely to be in regular close contact with infected patients.
Plastic face shields, which can be decontaminated after use to reuse, are not an absolute protection against infection but they can serve as a physical barrier to any particles emanated when a person breathes, or a barrier that offers some protection against particles hitting the wearer’s face if someone coughs or sneezes.
So while they might not be much use to the general public, they are an important piece of medical equipment for frontline health workers who come into regular close contact with infected patients.
Ideally, some medics would wear a plastic face shield as well as a surgical mask or respirator mask, which cannot be reused, depending on their role and likely contamination during their work.
While there is a debate about how effective cloth face masks are for the general public in slowing the spread of the virus, it is widely agreed that because clinical staff are heavily exposed to patients with COVID-19, there is an increased risk of them coming into contact with high viral loads, so medical staff need to follow more stringent procedures to do whatever they can to limit the risks, over and above the general advice such as handwashing.
Why Are The Public Donating PPE To The NHS?
Tim joins a national army of volunteers who are doing their bit to help provide protective equipment for the NHS amid an international global shortage of PPE which has prompted health services the world over to scramble to get their hands on whatever limited supplies there are.
The World Health Organisation has warned that prices for PPE have surged in response to the shortages following the outbreak of the pandemic, with the cost of surgical masks rising to up to six times the original cost while the price of surgical gowns has doubled – putting further pressure on healthcare budgets.
The British Government has been facing criticism after being accused of inadequate preparation to secure enough PPE, despite a contingency planning exercise in 2016 that has been reported to have highlighted a lack of stocks ahead of any potential outbreak of a deadly virus.
The Government has acknowledged that there have been distribution issues over the supply of PPE to the NHS but has argued that it has taken the right steps and is doing what it can to increase stocks.
Reports of shortages and a lack of adequate equipment for frontline health workers has prompted a national response from an army of volunteers and professionals to produce PPE for the NHS.
So far, efforts to supply the NHS have included engineers from the Royal Navy, Royal Air Forces and the British Army producing PPE components, Army cadets printing up PPE on 3D printers, a British Army reservist using his fashion design skills to create protective gowns, and countless other members of the public who have all given their time to support the drive.
The high volumes of patients with coronavirus puts pressure on stocks of PPE in hospitals because much of the protective clothing, such as disposable gowns for instance, are not designed for reuse while there are some reports that washing and disinfecting some PPE has caused some to disintegrate or lose protective properties – meaning more fresh supplies are always needed.
Tim is one of the latest volunteers to use his technical expertise to create PPE based on the design specifications required by the NHS to help keep that resupply of new protective gear flowing.
One medic at St Helier hospital, who did not wish to be named but who is now using Tim’s PPE, said:
“The face shields are an invaluable resource to allow us to work safely, but are in very short supply at the hospital.
“Volunteers like Tim, who take up large parts of their day to make this precious PPE, have helped to keep us caring for the sickest of people without getting sick ourselves.
“Without the donations of faceshields, and the ear savers, we would have much higher levels of sickness amongst staff, and very sore ears!
“We are extremely grateful for all the products that he has been able to make for us.”