A lesson in innovation from our learning technologist

Paul GillaryOur learning technologist from King’s Health Partners Education Academy, Paul Gillary [pictured right], shares how he adapted his business to upscale support for frontline NHS staff.

When COVID-19 first hit the UK, it affected all business, including my own business making bespoke LED engraved acrylic lights for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Fortunately, I have a fulltime job as a Learning Technologist at King’s Health Partners, so I count myself as one of the lucky ones.

A shortage of PPE has meant that many hospitals, care homes and medical professionals have not had the full protection they need against COVID-19. So, what better way to put my workshop, tools and skills to use than to make personal protective equipment (PPE) for our frontline NHS heroes and care workers.

My journey into making PPE started with 3D printing. I first made the ears savers. These are small hooked or buttoned strips that allow medical mask elastic ties to be moved off the ears preventing soreness from long term use:

ear savers

In the evenings and at weekends I printed about 50 of these in 3D, but it was too time consuming. 3D printing is not a quick process. I needed to find a quicker solution.

Plenty of others had had a similar idea. School technology departments and others working from home had also decided to pitch in and make masks for their communities too.

Resources and social media groups started to pop up - this was great for anyone looking for free designs to make masks, scrubs, scrub bags, aprons, and face shields.

Having learnt different techniques on how to make masks, I decided to approach the task a little differently. Rather than 3D printing, I switched to laser cutting and sourced some Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol-modified (PETG) plastic sheets from Amazon. Using this technique, I was now able to make 17 ear savers from an A4 sheet in only 20 minutes, taking half the amount of time it did on a 3D printer. At this point I had made and donated more than 200 ear savers to local key workers and organisations, buying the materials myself from my own pocket.

In my view, this was not enough. I wanted to do more than supply ear savers. I next decided to look at making face shields. I was also thinking that care home and hospices were not getting the help they needed with PPE. Some of the Facebook groups I use had started sharing designs for face shields and I used one of these to start laser cutting the parts I needed with acrylic I already had:

face shields

My first batch of six came out better than I hoped, and I delivered those to a local care home worker. Success!

The challenge I now faced was money. I couldn’t continue to keep spending money on materials. So, I decided to crowd source some funding on justgiving.com, setting a target of £300.

To my surprise my target was reached in just a few hours. A huge thanks to my friends and family also wanted to help too. I think we are at about £700 now and I’m now onto version two of the face shield using better and stronger materials.

On Monday 11th May I delivered 27 face shields to a local hospice. I’ve also just completed another batch for 30 social workers on the frontline.

So, what now? I’m going to continue to make PPE until I run out of donations. Even though I believe we are through the worst of what COVID-19 threw at us, there are still people who need vital PPE. I hope I can carry on doing my little bit and I hope it’s helping some of those that need it. However, this could soon change as a result of potential new guidance around how to make PPE coming out. Changes to testing requirements could mean homemade production may have to stop.

Interested to know more about how you can get involved in emergency appeals in response to COVID-19? Take a look at our overview of some of the fundraising activity taking place across our partnership.