Northern Ireland Businesses Response to COVID-19
COVID-19 has brought both health and economic challenges to nearly every country in the world, along with a huge loss of life.
Many businesses have been negatively impacted as trade constricts and non-essential operations have closed. At the same time though, where they can, some companies have waded through unfamiliar territory to switch production to make hand sanitisers, scrubs, facemasks and other vital PPE in an effort to help.
It is inspiring to see Northern Ireland businesses throwing their weight behind the fight and reinventing what they do to not only stay competitive but more importantly to help save lives. We’d like to share some of these stories with you.
Invest Northern Ireland's support to manage the impact of COVID-19
Working closely with the Department of Finance and the Business Services Organisation, Invest NI has been helping co-ordinate Northern Ireland’s effort in the fight against COVID-19. We have helped to match the experience we know NI companies have with government calls for support to design and manufacture much needed medical equipment and PPE for the NHS and frontline support agencies.
To date Invest NI has received over 300 offers from businesses who have expressed interest in supporting the fight against COVID-19, developing prototypes and products for testing to ensure they comply with regulations. Many have gone on to receive orders for PPE, ventilators, testing and sanitiser.
Invest NI’s Asia Pacific team is also currently supporting The Executive Office in Beijing to source PPE supply in China. On 1st April 2020, Chinese Central government published an official PPE manufacturer list to control quality and our team in Shanghai is working with China Resources to identify and help The NI Executive secure a supply of PPE equipment for frontline staff.
Medical ventilators are vital in the battle against coronavirus
As the battle against COVID-19 intensifies, hospitals across the world are facing a shortage of vital lifesaving ventilators for patients who become critically ill.
In the face of this global shortage, the UK Ventilator Challenge was launched and over 50 Northern Ireland companies have expressed an interest in helping to support the drive to build more ventilators for the NHS.
Ramping up production
Armstrong Medical in Coleraine manufactures disposable respiratory breathing systems that connect a patient to the ventilator system.
Due to COVID-19, the company has been overwhelmed with global orders for its products and just in the last month has seen its production output treble. This significant uplift in orders has meant the company has employed over 100 additional staff to help it meet the surge in demand.
Finding a new purpose
Northern Ireland boasts some of the world’s most innovative companies and many of these companies are innovating their normal business looking for ingenious ways to help. Invest NI has received over 100 expressions of interest from companies who want to support the manufacturing of vital PPE.
Magherafelt based blind manufacturer, Bloc Blinds has designed and prototyped a face shield and collaborated with Mid Ulster District Council to use Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt as a production facility. Within weeks, the company had produced over 200,000 Bloc Face Shields. The company has since modified the design so it can be produced by high-speed packaging equipment and has partnered with West Belfast based printing firm Huhtamaki. As a partnership, they hope to manufacture an estimated 13 million face shields for frontline health workers.
Strabane based manufacturer of sportswear, O’Neills has repurposed its business to produce scrubs and protective clothing for medical staff. Invest NI linked the company to the Health & Social Care Trust, which helped it win an order to supply hospitals.
These are just a few examples of how Northern Ireland businesses have rapidly adapted to meet the current need. We will continue to work closely with them and others to support the government to provide much-needed goods and services in support of frontline health services.
Teaming Up to Take On COVID-19
Northern Ireland has a strong history of collaboration so it isn’t surprising to see companies proactively coming together to take on COVID-19.
Newtownards based baby products supplier, Shnuggle has used its years of R&D experience to rapidly design and validate an innovative low-cost, high volume face shield for frontline care workers. The firm created a non-profit company known as ‘Hero Shield Ltd’ and put together a collective of almost 20 Northern Ireland companies to help manufacture and distribute the essential PPE equipment to key workers.
Precision Engineering firms including Denroy Plastics, Ad-Vance Engineering, Plastics 2000, and Crossen Engineering are collectively working hard to produce emergency two-piece face shields, which have been approved for supply to the NHS.
Hutchinson Engineering is also helping in the fight against Covid-19 by supplying critical components to the #VentilatorChallengeUK consortium. The company was selected as a key supplier of sheet metal components due to its flexibility and rapid turnaround.
North West healthcare seating manufacturer, Seating Matters has teamed up with McAuley Fabrication & Hutchinson Engineering to design and produce a type of bed for rapid deployment in field/temporary hospitals. The beds will be used by patients and for staff accommodation. The company is through the testing phase and is going into production. It has received expressions of interest from NHS England and Wales.
The company is also in partnership with Portadown based Plastic Promotions to produce protective shields for frontline healthcare workers.
Test Test Test
Northern Ireland’s Life & Health Sciences sector is renowned for housing some of the world’s most innovative companies in leading diagnostics. Following the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for the urgent need for testing, Northern Ireland companies including Randox, Almac, CIGA Healthcare, Fusion and Fortress Diagnostics are responding to the challenge to develop testing solutions for the detection of COVID-19.
Randox Laboratories is providing a test to combat and detect COVID-19. The company is supplying a significant element of its current COVID-19 testing capacity to the UK national testing programme. That programme is focusing on key workers and the NHS.
Randox is partnering with the government to develop a new #coronavirus testing programme in which NHS staff will be first in line.
Fusion Antibodies which specialists in pre-clinical antibody discovery, engineering and supply, is working with Queen’s University Belfast (“QUB”) as part of The Northern Ireland Coronavirus Antibody Development Alliance (“NICADA”), which has been established to seek new therapeutic and diagnostic approaches to help in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Fortress Diagnostics has developed a new test in its efforts to help respond to the requirement for reliable rapid detection of Coronavirus. This test enables quick and informed treatment decisions to be made at the point of care.
Ballymena based CIGA Healthcare is part of the UK Rapid Test Consortium, set up to respond to the COVID-19 challenge. The consortium includes Oxford University, Abingdon Health, and BBI Solutions and aims to design and develop a new antibody test to determine whether people have developed immunity after contracting the virus.
Lisburn security firm, Mercury Security and Facilities Management has created a new fever screening technology that will detect a person with a high temperature from a distance, in just one second. This has the potential to help in the early detection of one of the key COVID-19 symptoms.
Belfast based TruCorp Ltd has pioneered a new way to train medics in the use of ventilation equipment using a simple, cost-effective app. This will help with hospital training requirements when social distancing is so vital.
Craigavon based, Almac is supporting 34 separate crucial research projects to accelerate COVID-19 treatment for a variety of global pharmaceutical, biotech and research institutions, and in discussions to support an additional 40 programmes.
Ramping up Production
Omagh based manufacturer, Naturelle Consumer Products Ltd has responded to the COVID-19 crisis with its innovative line of disposable contamination control and infection control products. COVID-19 has presented many challenges for the company and it has responded by ensuring it can safely increase its capacity to help serve the huge demand for its products to its customers across the UK and Ireland.
Finding a new purpose
Many companies from our drinks industry have responded to the urgent requirement for hand sanitiser with Distilleries including Copeland Distillery, Shortcross Gin, the Boatyard Distillery and Echlinville Distillery temporarily diversifying their production lines to produce medically approved hand sanitiser.
Belfast city centre hotel Ramada by Wyndham has collaborated with the Belfast Trust and private provider, Healthcare Ireland to transform itself into a ‘step-down centre’ for patients recovering from COVID-19. As part of a plan to reduce hospital flow, the hotel will cater to almost 150 people discharged from the hospital who still require care.
Ongoing Invest NI Support
Invest NI’s is providing ongoing support to Northern Ireland Business to help manage the impact of COVID-19. It remains our priority to support the economy and businesses during this situation.