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NHS, local community and businesses stitch together to boost supplies of gowns and other PPE equipment

Wednesday, 22 April, 2020
NHS, local community and businesses stitch together to boost supplies of gowns and other PPE equipment

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, in partnership with other NHS organisations, has revealed plans to open a manufacturing facility to produce protective gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health and care staff tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move is part of a range of unique partnerships between the trust, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, other NHS partners, local businesses and organisations to boost supplies of gowns for the trust’s front-line teams but also across the north east and beyond.

Over the past few weeks, from what started off as a few phone calls asking for support, a whole network has grown. Now more than a dozen businesses and organisations – large and small – are stitching together to boost supplies of gowns.

This network includes a partnership with Northumbria University’s School of Design which is now producing protective gowns and scrubs for front-line teams from its premises.

The new manufacturing facility will be based at premises, leased from Wingrove Motor Company, in Cramlington. The building is now undergoing a major transformation with machinery and equipment, purchased by the trust, being installed in the next few days. This will enable the manufacture of potentially 7,500 protective gowns a week from the new facility alone.

Thirty experienced machinists will be working in the facility, some of which will staff redeployed from other areas within the trust. It is hoped the facility will officially open its production line in the next week.

The gowns will be made available to staff in the region and, as production increases, stocks will be shared more widely across England.

Meanwhile at Northumbria University’s School of Design, technicians and academics are working alongside Northumbria Healthcare staff and volunteers, all of who have previous experience of working in textile industry, to make gowns and scrubs from NHS approved PPE patterns. The first sets of scrubs were collected on Monday morning and delivered to St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle.

The School is home to a range of industry standard facilities, including over 60 professional grade sewing machines and pattern cutting tools. With 3,000 metres of the specialist material required sourced and delivered by the NHS last week, a team of pattern cutters got to work cutting the material to size.

On behalf of local NHS leaders, Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone for their offers of support over recent weeks – the fact we have now have so many organisations and businesses helping us is a real testament to the innovative spirit of this region. Everyone has been fantastic and worked so quickly to help turn ideas into reality.

“We are receiving PPE through the national NHS supply chain but we know there is a huge demand for supplies globally which is a challenge. This extra support is vital to keeping stocks flowing as we use thousands of pieces of equipment every day across the region. The new facility in Cramlington and the wider support we have from businesses means we can manage supply, from design to the front-line.”

Sir James added that the new facility will run for an initial three months but it has the potential to become sustainable beyond COVID-19. He said: “We will of course need to wait and see how it goes but there is the potential for us to continue production beyond COVID-19 which could benefit the local economy, enable us to be more self-sufficient, and reduce carbon footprint.”

Advising and supporting the trust has been Sarah Rose, managing director at Lucas Jacob Ltd and director of Hobart Rose who has volunteered her own time and 27 years of industry expertise. Sarah, alongside trust volunteer Michael Young, have both been instrumental in bringing businesses on-board and getting the new facility open.

Sarah Rose said: “NHS staff are doing such as amazing job in these really difficult times so for me it’s a real honour to be able to help and to see the business community pull together at what is a hard time for them too. The response has been incredible.”

Managing director of Wingrove Motor Company, Josh Parker, who is part of the fifth generation of the founding family to work for the business, says: “We’re all in awe of the incredible work being done by NHS staff across the North East in the most difficult of conditions, and it’s a real honour and a privilege for us to be able to support them in this way. Our team has done a fantastic job in emptying out our distribution centre in such a short space of time and work is now ongoing to get the production line up and running as quickly as possible. We very much hope this project makes a real contribution to the health and well-being of people living in the communities that we’re proud to have been part of for almost a century.”

Professor Andrew Wathey, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Northumbria University said: “In response to the national fight against Covid-19, here at Northumbria we have been exploring ways to use both our world-class teaching and research facilities, and the skills and experience of our colleagues. Through our links with Northumbria Healthcare we identified the opportunity to provide much needed protective equipment for NHS frontline staff using the skills, experience and leadership of our design staff and the use of our School of Design facilities. The response from colleagues across the University over the past few weeks has been extraordinary and this is an excellent example of the University working at pace in innovative ways to really make a difference.”

Media contacts:
Sarah McKellar on 07976 759495 or Cara Charlton on 07812 389963