Pete Boyle, the Belfast businessman who built the Argento chain of jewellery shops, has donated £10,000 to a Newtownards company which has retooled its factory to produce vital PPE for health service heroes treating patients with coronavirus. His move comes after the repeated failure of the Health Department to commit to provide PPE in sufficient quantity to frontline healthcare workers.
Over recent weeks, workers in hospitals and care homes as well as other frontline workers in pharmacies and GP practices have been crying out for additional PPE supplies to protect them from contracting the coronavirus. However, despite repeated calls — the most recent being yesterday (Wednesday) by Royal College of Nursing director Pat Cullen in a meeting with the First and deputy First Minister — frontline workers speaking to the Andersonstown News say there is still a widespread shortage of equipment.
Among the most valued but hardest-to-get items is the full-face shield now being manufactured by Shnuggle of Newtownards, a company which previously focused on baby products. The firm has orders for 20,000 shields and was able to ramp up production after the donation from the Argento boss. Shnuggle is sending packs of 10 Hero Shields to key workers across the North. The shields are being produced following open source blueprints which means they can be replicated by any other company across the globe without paying a royalty to Shnuggle.
On hearing of the new source for the highly-prized face shields, several care homes across Belfast made immediate bids for supplies. One care home alone said it could take 100 shields immediately.
Pete Boyle has taken steps to share the open source manufacturing detail with groups in America where there is a similarly deadly shortage. "We should stop trying to source this equipment from China and start manufacturing it now. Make it, don't source it. Anyone with a 3-D printer or an injection mould facility can be up and running immediately" he said.
"I felt kind of helpless," added Pete Boyle. "And yet, when I contacted the health service to offer assistance, I was getting mixed messages. At the top, they were saying we have plenty of everything but in the frontline, the nurses and doctors were crying out for PPE."
During a visit to Strabane to visit the family home this week, Pete Boyle said he was impressed by the scale of the community response. "There were people making hot meals for my mother and delivering them," he said. "It was both very impressive and very humbling."
RCN director Pat Cullen told the BBC yesterday that she did not receive assurances from the First and deputy First Ministers that sufficient supplies of PPE would be "readily available".