Rollout of personal respirators protecting NHS frontline staff during pandemic

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A pioneering protective respirator, developed in Southampton, is now being used by healthcare staff treating COVID-19 patients around the country after receiving approval from the regulators.

The respirator, known as PeRSo, covers the wearer’s head and has a plastic visor to protect their face. It delivers clean air through a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter with belt-mounted fan pack and can be worn throughout a long shift and reused after appropriate cleaning.

As the country went into the first lockdown in March 2020, a collaboration of engineers from the University of Southampton, clinicians at University Hospital Southampton and industry partners including McLaren, Kemp Sails and INDO Lighting came together to develop PeRSo. In just one week, this partnership turned an idea into a prototype which was then tested on wards and manufactured at scale by INDO Lighting in less than a month.

Over 10,000 respirators have now been provided to staff in more than 20 NHS trusts from the south of England to Scotland after it received approval from the Health and Safety Executive for use during the pandemic.

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As well as receiving positive feedback by the staff who wear them, the respirator has been well received by patients during face-to-face conversations with their doctors and nurses. Being reusable also means they reduce the environmental impact of disposable PPE and can save money longer term.

Dr Becky Eggleston, a doctor on the general intensive care unit at University Hospital Southampton said: “We are extremely grateful for all the work that the team has put into producing the PeRSo hoods. They are much more comfortable than alternative PPE, which makes a huge difference to us during our long shifts.”

“Being able to see each other’s faces makes it easier for our team to communicate, and knowing that patients take comfort from being able to see the faces of the people looking after them is a boost to morale.”

Ric Gillams, a Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, who was part of the original development team said: “I felt very helpless in the early days of the pandemic and so I was delighted to be part of the PeRSo team. We had a lot of support from across the University, from Southampton General Hospital and from a large number of companies around the UK.”

“The pressure on healthcare workers is now even greater than it was in the first wave of the pandemic and the feedback from PeRSo users has been very positive. It is very rewarding to see the respirators in action and to have made a contribution to the safety of those working on the frontline treating patients with COVID-19.”

Southampton Professors Paul Elkington and Hywel Morgan, who have led the PeRSo project from its inception, were awarded MBEs in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

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