Company’s research and innovation hub supporting NHS during Covid-19 crisis

BT’s Adastral Park is co-ordinating a major effort to create thousands of protective visors for frontline health and social care workers in the East of England every week during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company’s research and innovation hub, near Ipswich, is working with local schools, universities and 3D printing firms to supply organisations, including the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), with the vital protective equipment.

[Pictured Chris and Baz Wilson from BT Adastral Park's Emergency Response Team demonstrating protective visors]

Lisa Perkins, BT Adastral Park research and realisation director, said they developed a prototype of the widely approved PRUSA visor using a 3D printer, after hearing about the difficulties the NHS was facing in securing enough PPE.

She said: “It started off as a small request enquiring if we had any 3D printers which then grew to us taking on the whole co-ordination of producing these visors across the region.

“It’s not just ESNEFT this is limited to either, as we’re also supplying local GP and even care homes who have approached us.”

Ms Perkins said a prototype of the visor was shown to officials at Ipswich Hospital who were so impressed that they asked if production could be ramped up immediately.

She added: “We’ve set up a production line at Adastral Park and delivered our first visors to Ipswich Hospital on 9 April. They told us they would be put to use in the intensive care unit immediately and it’s incredible to think it’s already making a difference.

“We’re working with so many great partners on this project including Stealth Mounts, Farlingaye High School and University of Suffolk, as well as Connectix Cabling Systems, Ipswich Makerspace, Kemtron and Stour Valley School. Huge numbers of individuals are also contributing using their personal 3D printers and supplies, and non-manufacturing businesses are also contributing*. We’ve only just started but the plan is to soon be producing around 3,000 visors a week.”

The visors cover the face and are based on two approved designs. They are also made of acetate which means they can be disinfected and potentially re-used.

Ms Perkins said they had also been overwhelmed by the generosity of the local community and businesses in donating materials towards the effort. “I’d like to say a big thank you to those who have responded to our plea to help do this,” she said. “We’ve been blown away by the amazing response we’ve had. We’ve got an army of people 3D printing the frames, we’ve had large donations of acetate and elastic and people have offered to collect and deliver materials.”

Ipswich Hospital is co-ordinating distribution of the visors throughout Trust sites including Aldeburgh, Clacton, Halstead, Harwich and Felixstowe community hospitals and Bluebird Lodge, near Ipswich.

Dr Angela Tillett, Chief Medical Officer at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, said: “We are hugely grateful to everyone in the community who is offering their support and making donations like this possible.

“This very large and regular supply of full-face visors is making a real difference and allowing our teams to continue the fight against Coronavirus (COVID-19) at ESNEFT safely. “We would like to say a big thank you to everyone at BT for their kindness and hard work.” Ms Perkins said BT had also received requests from other health and social care providers and also Suffolk Police to supply them with the visors. She added: “We know the demand is huge and we will help out as much as possible. So many people have stepped up and contributed but we would be delighted if more people could join our cause to help us in this effort.”

BT is asking for donations of elastic and acetate and also appealing to local 3D printing or laser cutting businesses to get in touch if they think they can support. For further information contact computerscience@bt.com

In addition to supporting the NHS with the protective visors, BT’s Adastral Park also has an Emergency Response Team who are playing their part. The team receive specialist training and have a fully equipped ambulance. Since the weekend they have been supporting the East of England Ambulance Service on emergency call outs.

BT is a partner of the Haven Gateway Partnership