26 Jun 2022

Offaly-based innovators design their own PPE!


Bikers Colm Ryan and Aidan Dunne pictured with Doris Healion, owner of “Perfect Stitches”, who has been modifying gowns at Tullamore Hospital in a voluntary capacity, and Merv Colton outside the MRH,

A group of innovative Offaly-based businessmen believe they may have come up with the perfect solution to the global shortage in personal protective equipment – by making it themselves!

The culmination of the efforts of these local heroes was the delivery of 3,000 disposable gowns to the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore on Friday last for use by frontline staff.

The delivery could not have come at a better time, with the hospital’s Quality and Patient Safety Manager, Brendan Reddy, admitting that PPE for frontline staff was “at critically low levels.”

While the Irish-made disposable gowns are the brainchild of local businessman, Merv Colton, who runs a kitchen design company in Tullamore called Age-Tek Design along with his brother, Adrian, he says the project is “very much a collaborative effort involving a large number of volunteers.”

Merv, who is a member of Open Source Ventilators Ireland (OSV) says the idea to make the PPE came about “almost by accident” when well-known local seamstress, Doris Healion, volunteered her expertise to extend the sleeves on some of the gowns which had already been distributed to frontline staff in Tullamore Hospital.

Doris is member of the Lloyd family from Adams Villas, and runs her own company called “Perfect Stitches” which specialises in school uniforms and embroidery.

“She was using a derivative of a roofing fabric to extend the sleeves, which was found to be suitable, so that got me thinking that perhaps we could use the same fabric to manufacture our own gowns” says Merv Colton.

He contacted two local companies, Tullamore Hardware and D & S Hardware, and an Arklow-based timber company, Armstrong Timber, all of whom donated the roofing material (which is imported from Poland) and then Merv Colton set about finding companies who were willing to make the gowns.

“We held our first design meeting in the grounds of Tullamore Hospital while observing social distancing requirements, at which we came up with a prototype” he says.

Another local company, Midland Sacks and Covers, which is based in Clara, came on board to manufacture the gowns, and they were assisted in the manufacturing process by staff from two other companies, Masita Sportswear, which is based in Kells, county Meath and Ardee Coach Trim in county Louth.

The delivery of the raw materials to the various companies involved in manufacturing the gowns was undertaken by volunteers from the Irish Photo Rally group, of which Merv Colton is a member.

“We have over 1,200 volunteer bikers who have been travelling the length and breath of Ireland over the past few weeks collecting PPE from businesses that have closed down and delivering it to hospitals and healthcare facilities for use by frontline staff, so when they were asked to get involved in delivering the raw materials for the gowns they did it without any hesitation” says Merv.

The delivery of 3,000 disposable gowns to Tullamore hospital on Friday is “the first of many” according to Merv Colton, who has already sourced three more Irish companies who are willing to manufacture the much-needed PPE. It is hoped that there will be weekly deliveries of the Irish-made PPE over the coming weeks.

Brendan Reddy, Quality and Patient Safety Manager at the hospital confirmed that “national procurement are currently looking at taking this project on board” and he expressed the hope that it could become “a national solution to a global problem.”

Two members of the medical staff in the Midland Regional hospital in Tullamore, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Eoin Sheehan, and Robert Eger, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, declared the gowns as being “very suitable for use” after they had been fitted with them at Friday’s handover.

“With so many Irish companies closed due to the Covid-19 emergency, and so much expertise not being utilised, this is a perfect opportunity to manufacture our own Irish-made PPE “ says Merv Colton “we have proved it can be done with a bit of innovative thinking and it could provide the perfect answer to the critical shortage of PPE for our frontline workers who are risking their lives every time they go to work.”

Merv Colton has set up a Go Fund Me page seeking ongoing donations of PPE for frontline staff in hospitals and care settings all around the country. The page is called BCT ppe Phase 2, and it can be accessed at the following link:

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