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Southampton team developing prototype protective equipment for frontline healthcare staff

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Southampton researchers are testing a prototype of a personal respirator they have developed for frontline healthcare staff tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the tests are successful, they hope it will solve the limitations of existing protective equipment doctors and nurses are wearing on the wards.

Rapid response

Working with industry partners including McLaren and Kemp Sails to respond to the pandemic, the team had a prototype in testing in just a few days. The disposable surgical and FFP3 facemasks currently used in hospitals are constantly in high demand, and are not available in some settings. The early stage prototype developed in Southampton consists of a fabric hood which covers the wearer’s head, integrated with a plastic visor to protect their face. A small portable unit delivers clean air through a HEPA filter to the wearer from a battery powered fan pack mounted on a belt. The prototype uses off-the-shelf components, and has received positive feedback from doctors, nurses and patients in initial demonstrations at the hospital.

Doctors and nurses will be testing the prototypes on the wards this week in the course of their day-to-day work, to provide comfort and usability feedback.

Protecting staff

If the tests are successful and the prototype obtains the necessary safety certifications, the concept will be published open-source so it would be available to other manufacturers and organisations around the world. The engineers on the team will also investigate developing simpler prototypes using only components available in developing countries. Paul Elkington, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton said, "We must minimise the risk of infection for medical staff and stop them getting sick at the peak of the pandemic, so that they can care for others. The engineering team have rapidly developed something simple yet effective. "The HEPA filtered air removes 99.95% of particulate matter and the face mask protects from splashes, and so we think this will reduce the risk of infection." Hywel Morgan, Professor of Bioelectronics at the University of Southampton said, “This is an excellent example of industry, universities and hospitals combining their expertise and answering the call to develop solutions needed to save lives in the current crisis. “We are really grateful to our partners at McLaren, Kemp Sails and INDO on behalf of Baynhams for their commitment in working around the clock with us to getting this from a concept to a working prototype in a matter of days.”

Whilst other personal respirators exist, they also face high demand. The successful deployment of this product on a large scale would help to increase the amount of protective equipment available to help keep healthcare workers safe, healthy and able to remain caring for patients. Making the design specification accessible online would mean this product could be manufactured in any country without facing export delays or restrictions.

Further information on the product is available here.


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