The West Midlands PPE Collective

The West Midlands PPE Collective

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage across the West Midlands region and throughout the UK. Well known for its manufacturing capabilities, and world-class innovation infrastructure, the West Midlands was well placed to respond to the region’s life-threatening shortage of PPE within the community, care homes, and NHS.

Find your nearest AHSN

By The West Midlands PPE Collective


During the first wave of Coronavirus in the UK, following a call to action to local manufacturers by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands who requested local businesses to present themselves if they could produce the much-needed PPE and medical supplies for the health and care sectors. Following this call Birmingham Hospitals Alliance (BHA) sought WMAHSNs assistance in finding local companies that could support their urgent and ongoing requirements to produce Surgical Gowns, and the West Midlands PPE Collective was created.

After issuing a call to arms to businesses to help supply or manufacture PPE, by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), supported by The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN), WMCA teamed up with Medilink WM who were already researching and identifying suitable businesses for this recruitment campaign.

Through collaborative working and partnerships amongst the health care businesses and academic community, the Birmingham Hospitals Alliance (BHA) formed a consortium of Midlands based manufacturers to produce the much-needed PPE, surgical gowns. The Midlands region had an advantage, with its historic manufacturing excellence and innovative ideas for problem solving. This collaborative approach then led to the mass production of critically needed surgical gowns on a national and local level, creating new purpose-built spaces and jobs.

Some of the organisations who had previously never before worked within the health care sector were joining forces with veterans serving this sector, learning from each other about techniques and approaches from other sectors. This led to them being able to, with impressive speed and diligence, manufacture and distribute certified products to the NHS. With the work carried out during the first wave of the pandemic, the region benefited from up to 25,000 extra surgical gowns produced a week.

How did the Innovation Exchange help?

The Birmingham Hospitals Alliance (BHA) looks after UHB, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and are currently going through approximately 100,000 surgical gowns a week. Their central procurement team quickly realised they could not continue to rely solely on international markets and decided to take matters into their own hands.

Following a call to arms to manufacturers by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, UHB contacted the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) about a need for two types of surgical gowns for use as PPE and in surgical theatres for those Trusts.

A working group, led by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) – comprising West Midlands based manufacturers was formed through the engagement of the WMAHSN and Medilink West Midlands, the Industry gateway for the WMAHSN.

  • Airguard Filters – A Walsall based manufacturer, specialists in the design and manufacture of filters, coalescers and high efficiency filter bags. Who as a result of their work diversified into the medical industry and has set up a specialist manufacturing facility.
    Arrow Medical – Contract medical manufacturer, specialists in the assembly of anaesthesia devices.
  • Contechs Medical - A leading provider of specialist services to OEM’s, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers in the automotive sector, who diversified into the medical industry and set up a specialist manufacturing centre.
  • Hospital Direct (HDI Group) - Shropshire based manufacturer, specialists in the design, production, and distribution of patient handling solutions.
  • Wearwell - Based in Tamworth, this well-established manufacturer specialises in the design, production and supply of premium quality workwear.

Impact & Outcomes

With the support of Medilink West Midlands, working as the Industry Gateway for the WMAHSN the West Midlands PPE Collective was able to secure its first contracts with regional hospitals via the BHA. Both organisations played a pivotal role in bringing the collective together and helping them to navigate the supply chain routes into the NHS. This work has been supported by MakeUK in representing their work and activity and their ability to rapidly respond to the NHS calls for help, to Government and the supply chain organisations.

Not only have the collective group played a pivotal role in the NHS supply chain, we can share with you impressive *aggregated data from the PPE Collective, clear evidence that even in a national crisis, local manufacturers are the heartbeat of the region and their communities:

  • Over £1.8M investment
  • Over 200 jobs created
  • Over 100 more jobs safeguarded
  • More than 150 more people were not put on furlough
  • Generating over £4M additional turnover
  • With further benefits to the UK & local economies through spill over effects into the local supply chain and communities

*Accurate as of 1 December 2020

Specific details on some of the consortium outlined here:

Wearwell (UK) Ltd, became one of the first manufacturers in the country to be awarded EN13795 certification, alongside CE mark, for its UK made disposable surgical gown.

Contechs fast and highly accurate fabric cutting platform was identified as an ideal system and service for preparing and rapidly cutting material to produce scrubs and PPE garments.  Their innovative approaches to use their skills, materials knowledge and production technology experience for new products and within a new business sector spared the company from having to furlough the majority of their staff and their manufacturing technology would otherwise have been dormant due to the shutdown of the automotive sector.

From the success of collaborative working within the regional healthcare sector, other areas of work have been explored, to combine industry knowledge, skills and expertise to economically manufacture high volume PPE products for the UK and overseas markets which has led the Contechs Group to create Contech Medical to supply this sector. From this experience and activity in the healthcare sector they have launched 3 new clinical certified and IP protected items.

Airguard Filters, specialists in the design and manufacture of filters utilised their skills, staff knowledge and facilities to diversify into the health sector to support the call out for PPE. They set up a new marketing, sales and manufacturing service, along with adding a wide range of additional clinical PPE items sourced from other local manufactures that answered the call of the WMCA and the government.

Hospital Direct has been manufacturing and supplying the NHS and associated healthcare for 25 years, and were developing and enhancing their services to tackle and solve problems created by COVID-19 such as developing new PPE products. As an established company within the health sector, Hospital Direct was soon recognised as a distributor of choice for the consortium and embarked on a distribution agreement, with the possibility of future working partnerships.