//South Yorkshire businesses step up to PPE challenge

Published 27th May 2020 at 3:02pm

Businesses across South Yorkshire have stepped forward to switch production to make Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the NHS and care sector, supporting the region’s efforts to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Mayor Dan Jarvis, the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System (ICS) issued a call to arms, asking firms to help make gowns, masks, gloves and hand sanitiser.

Dozens of offers from South Yorkshire businesses have been received and are being worked through by the ICS and supported by the LEP and the region’s four local authorities. Five suppliers are already manufacturing gowns, two providing hand sanitiser and aprons for NHS staff and care workers.

Many of the offers have been directed to the NHS England procurement scheme, where companies who can produce at scale contribute to the national effort to supply PPE to the rest of the country.  The NHS has procured 1.3m items of PPE since the call out, with another 250,000 pieces being actively pursued.

The LEP and its Growth Hub business advisors have been supporting companies, including small and  medium sized firms, to switch production – providing guidance to ensure PPE is made to the required standards and their production efforts can be directed to meet local demand, working closely with the ICS and local authorities.

The LEP has offered new support as part of its Skills Bank service, to provide dedicated advice and training for businesses directly helping with the government’s coronavirus response, such as producing PPE or sanitisers. Skills Bank can support employers to source and fund training to ensure changes to the business are put in place quickly and safely.

While the peak of the virus has passed, PPE is still required to protect patients, doctors, nurses and all health and care staff, and help ensure the region’s health and care facilities have equipment to save lives and keep people safe from the virus. The ICS is working through the responses to ensure offers can be taken forward. Some will not meet requirements and have been politely declined.

Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said:

“Our companies have made an enormous contribution to efforts to overcome the coronavirus, and they have shown South Yorkshire’s strengths and resilience. Our makers and creators power our economy, and now they have switched production to save lives. Businesses, NHS and care colleagues and key workers are pulling together to help us get through this challenge. I’m proud that PPE is being made in South Yorkshire and worn by heroes. I would like to thank everyone who has stepped forward – your contributions have played a vital role in saving lives and will continue to make a difference as we emerge from this challenge.”

James Muir, Chair of the SCR Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said:

“South Yorkshire’s businesses have stepped forward during this challenging time, innovating and adapting to support the production of PPE. I’m proud of the contribution they have made and that the LEP has supported this crucial effort, brokering contacts for the NHS and supporting firms to switch production. The LEP is supporting jobs and businesses during the pandemic, and we must build on our workers’ and businesses’ skills and strengths to create a prosperous future for South Yorkshire.”

Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive of South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw ICS, said:

“Thank you very much to all the businesses which came forward to offer support in our efforts to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Obviously, this is a time of great need in the health and care sector and we are very grateful to those which responded so quickly to the call. In the last couple of weeks, we have carefully worked through the offers and are delighted that so many local businesses are now working with us to produce much needed equipment.”

Thanks to the contributions of companies, colleges and universities, supplies of visors are strong. Institutions like Barnsley College have contributed, supplying 2,500 visors to the town’s hospital, using their 3D printers and laser cutters to create a template and a production line, working with local firms to source materials.

Digital Exchange is one of the firms who stepped forward following the call to arms. The Sheffield-based firm is helping to take steps to produce reusable gowns in the city, working with a manufacturer of bio-degradable face visors in the region, supplying UK-made hand sanitiser, and has put millions of aprons into UK production, which are all destined for the NHS and local authorities. The company also donated 6,000 face masks this month to local residential homes and food banks.

Nick Cotton, Managing Director of Digital Exchange, said: “Just as the UK was going in to lockdown, it struck me that we had an established supply chain of PPE via one of our other group companies, and through years of working in the region we also had a strong network of contacts who I thought could come together and help. That’s proved to be the case, in that we’re now working with UK manufacturing to help plug PPE and virus control gaps across various sectors.

“I believe hard work and determination gets results and, in this case, it’s done exactly that. Myself and the team at Digital are honoured to be have been working with like-minded local and regional manufacturers, with the support of local authorities, the Sheffield City Region and key procurement officers, to get the job done.”