Tuesday, May 05, 2020

EVEN though there’s no shortage of PPE at University Hospital Waterford (UHW), a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon said Covid-19 has presented an opportunity to get back a more sustainable way of doing things.

Mr Gareth Higgins, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at UHW, came up with a solution to the use of disposable PPE by developing a reusable, Irish made and sustainable gown that gives the wearer “great peace of mind”.

With the prototype being well received by hospital management, a total of 3,000 gowns were commissioned for use at UHW.

Speaking to the Waterford News & Star Mr Higgins made it clear that his drive to source new gowns was not due to a shortage of PPE at UHW. “In the context of the Pandemic I realised that we cannot continue to rely on long supply chains and disposable kit from China. When I started as a surgeon we always re-sterilised everything,” he explained, saying no country can sustain the use of disposable gowns forever.

After coming up with the concept Mr Higgins turned to Dunmore East dressmaker Colette McGrath, who used her wonderful sewing skills to put together gowns for the Ophthalmology and ENT Departments using material sourced from Marshall Marine. “You need something durable, washable and something that is water resistant. We were looking at different materials and I rang up Marshall Marine,” he said, eventually deciding on nylon fabric used to make sail bags. Initially, panels for 100 gowns were produced by Marshall Marine and then expertly sown together by Colette. “They are really high quality and we are grateful to Colette. The idea is we will have a source of PPE, that when we are finished with the gowns we can put them into a laundry bag and not into a bin bag,” he said.

The gowns were tested and approved by the hospital, before being trialled by the two departments. Mr Higgins also approached senior management at UHW, who agreed that it was exactly what was needed. “Within a few days we had ordered a large amount of these gowns,” he said. The first batch arrived on Monday (May 4) and will be distributed accordingly.

Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, “The hospital has managed well so far, but we have to prepare for the possibility of a major surge. When you look at the NHS and the hospitals in London any service would struggle to maintain the levels of PPE that are going to be required in a major surge.”

Furthermore, it is logical to move towards reusable garments, as it is likely that we are going to have to live with Covid-19 for some time.

“At some point we are going to have to try to resume elective surgery in the context of Covid-19. However much PPE we are using now, when we start operating routinely again we are going to have to protect ourselves and the patients and we will be using even more,” Mr Higgins said.

Mr Gareth Higgins, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon pictured in the reusable PPE gown.

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