New government rules stop volunteers making PPE for workers on coronavirus front line

May 16 2020
New government rules stop volunteers making PPE for workers on coronavirus front line

A VOLUNTEER-run group making free personal protective equipment for NHS and care workers has had to stop production due to new government rules.

Hack the Pandemic was set up by 3D printer users to address a lack of PPE for key workers working through the coronavirus crisis by making it themselves and then giving it to any nurses, doctors, ambulance workers (above) and carers who asked for it.

Founders Ed Clyne and Paul Haines set up a network of fellow printer users in Bristol and South Gloucestershire to mass-produce plastic equipment, primarily face shields and clips to enable N95 surgical masks to be worn more comfortably and efficiently.

Since March they have supplied thousands of items, using a JustGiving page to raise more than £17,000 for materials and equipment through public donations and using Emersons Green Village Hall as a base to assemble, sanitise and pack the finished products ready for collection.

But the group has had to stop making and giving away the equipment (below) after the government announced new requirements which insist all PPE producers have a CE certification that the products comply with European Economic Area health, safety, and environmental protection standards. To gain the certification they must pay a fee to national standards body the BSI and wait around three weeks for certification.

A spokesperson for Hack the Pandemic said: “Despite the fact that our designs and process (including our 3 stage sanitation setup) has been prepared alongside discussions and recommendations with the NHS, and that our designs have been tested and approved by the PPE departments of a growing number of large NHS facilities, we now have a long and expensive process ahead of us.

Not only will this be setting us back in getting PPE to you and your colleagues, it will also cost us almost £5,000 which is the equivalent to thousands of units we could instead be making and distributing.”

The spokesperson said the new regulation had “come out of the blue” and meant that PPE the group had already produced but not given away “is now classified as unusable”.

He added: “We are planning on having this recycled back into new filament to be re-printed, but as half of (the PPE items) have all been post processed, many of them may not be suitable for recycling.

That said, we make a point to produce our parts from bio-plastics which have a lesser impact on the environment and under the right conditions can biodegrade.

These excessive regulations in a time of national emergency are putting lives at risk and preventing thousands of people from accessing vital PPE, as well as wasting thousands of pounds of donated money to acquire this certification.

Our team is working hard on securing this certification as soon as possible, but it may take 2-3 weeks before we will be able to start supplying face shields again.

If there was any way we could continue to supply face shields to anyone during this time we would of course do so but at the moment if we were to continue distributing PPE we could face serious legal complications.

We are deeply sorry for this and hope to be fully operational again as soon as possible.”

Hack the Pandemic can still supply two other items which do not need certification, clips to make N95 masks more comfortable to wear and a tool called a DoorMate, which can be used to turn handles and operate lift buttons without touching them with a hand.

The change in certification rules has been introduced by the Office for Product Safety and Standards, part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The Voice asked the BEIS if Hack the Pandemic would have to pay the certification fee and whether the group would have to dispose of the unused PPE it had already made.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “The response from organisations wanting to help with the production of PPE has been extraordinary and the government has eased administrative requirements in order to get PPE to frontline NHS staff as quickly as possible.

However, we have been clear that all PPE must meet essential safety requirements, which is why we have published guidance for small-scale manufacturers.”