Students build website to connect NHS workers with unused PPE – The University of Edinburgh

Illustration of a person wearing a facemask with flowers behind it.
A group of University students have come together to tackle one of the biggest problems the NHS is facing during the current COVID-19 crisis.

As we know, a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is causing issues in hospitals throughout the country. Healthcare professionals are struggling to get the equipment they need in the quantities they need and some even have to make their own. Many are taking to twitter to voice their concerns and problems.

As an Edinburgh medical student, Anushka Pathak was acutely aware of the challenges faced by the NHS and voiced her feelings about this to her friends, and Edinburgh final-year computer science students, Ashish Telang and Nick Carmot. The trio realised that by combining their skills, they might be able to help.

PPE is not exclusively used by NHS staff; many jobs in other sectors require workers to use appropriate PPE. The group realised that it was possible that many places had equipment sitting in offices or workshops unused. The group explored the possibility of creating an online platform to link up this unused PPE with key NHS workers. They called it Mask Share UK.

“As a medical student, I fully empathise with the situation that all NHS workers are facing today. I have no doubt that all healthcare workers are doing their best to help their patients, and yet they are being let down and their efforts are being hampered by lack of PPE. Some of my colleagues and friends were working in these conditions with inadequate PPE and I just felt like there was something that really needed to be done urgently about this issue. Nick, Ashish and I were chatting on the phone and realised that many people and companies around the country have masks and other PPE sitting at home that would alleviate part of the PPE shortage. We decided to do our part to help by building this platform that allows us to facilitate the mobilisation of these PPE stocks to the frontline so they can reach our healthcare workers as quickly as possible” said Anushka.

Mask Share UK group

L-R: Ashish Telang, Anushka Pathak, Nick Carmot

It took four days to build the Mask Share website using raw HTML, CSS and Javascript, Colorlib templates and Google Forms. Both PPE donors and NHS workers simply register through the website, and they are matched up based on a number of factors, including the different PPE needed and the distance between the two parties. This process is currently done manually but the team are working on an algorithm to replace this system and streamline the whole process.

Jimmy Tahhan, University of California San Diego aerospace engineering graduate, currently doing a masters in management at London Business School and Lucy Barnes, University of Edinburgh Spanish and English literature graduate came on board to manage and promote the project.

In late April the students all gathered on a Zoom call to launch the website together. Once the site was live, the orders started coming in. Their largest donation to date was 1,200 pieces of PPE from a construction company which they were able to connect to a hospital.

Ashish shares how it felt to see people using the website: “It was really exciting to make our first match. It was a moment of realisation that what we had built was making a meaningful difference in the community and that our work was really paying off.”

Social media has been vital to spreading the word about Mask Share and building up a large group of volunteers. As well as six members of the core team, there are more than 60 volunteers united in a Facebook group. These volunteers are tasked with spreading the word about Mask Share, so that more people willing to donate PPE can be matched up to NHS frontline workers that really need it.

The group have been using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to reach out to medics, government officials, and hospitals. They have also contacted a number of influencers to help them spread the word.

Since launch, Mask Share has facilitated the delivery of hundreds of pieces of PPE with more connections being made every day. The team are currently looking into building on this number of donations as well as bringing together a network of people who have access to 3D printers, who may be able to print PPE. They are also investigating the possibility of expanding into developing countries.

Anushka explains their plans for the future: “We’re hoping to gain more traction and keep shifting PPE to the NHS frontline! It’s definitely been difficult working from home in separate places, but we have daily calls and updates to keep the work pushing along and making sure we’re all up to date. Ideally, we’d love to expand out of the UK as well, to get PPE to other countries struggling with it, but that’s a much longer-term goal, and one we can only focus on after the current UK demands are met.”

Staff across the University have been also been contributing PPE to the NHS. Colleagues in the School of Informatics have been using their 3D printers to create more than 100 face shields a day. Informatics technicians are using the workshop in Appleton Tower as a face shield factory while staff at Easter Bush have contributed hundreds of masks, surgical scrubs, goggles, PCR machines and four ventilators to the NHS. Moray House School of Education and Sport also donated goggles and acetate to help with the current PPE shortage.

Content retrieved from: https://www.ed.ac.uk/covid-19-response/our-community/caring-connections-how-the-university-community-is.

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