UEA’s successful hand sanitiser project comes to an end

Vice Chancellor Prof David Richardson pays the technicians in the New Science Building a visit in March, during the hand sanitiser production project (please note: this photo was taken before social distancing measures were introduced)

After 12 weeks of lab work, the final batch of hand sanitiser created on University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) campus has been safely bottled, with close to 4,000 litres having been distributed to key workers across the region.

Since March, a team of 14 technicians from UEA’s Faculty of Science, led by Laboratory Manager Judith Mayne, have been volunteering to produce the sanitiser and it is estimated that the sanitiser will have cleaned an estimated 1.3 million pairs of hands since the project started. (Please see notes to editors for an infographic of UEA's COVID-19 hand sanitiser project by numbers.)

The initiative was led by UEA Health and Social Care Partners (UEAHSCP), the research partnership hosted by UEA whose main function is to increase collaboration between health and social care organisations in Norfolk, Suffolk and North East Essex.

Public Health England issued guidance in February urging people to use sanitiser when washing their hands to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but this increased usage meant hospitals and NHS healthcare facilities across the UK faced a shortage.

In response, UEA opened up the otherwise vacant labs in their New Science Building to produce emergency supplies of hand sanitiser, which were distributed to a number of local organisations, including Norfolk’s three acute hospitals (Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust, The Queen Elizabeth King's Lynn NHS Foundation Trust, James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Norfolk County Council.

In total, the sanitiser was distributed to 15 local health and social care facilities, NHS trusts and community organisations in the East of England and used to keep the hands of key workers, health and social care professionals and volunteers clean.

After a call out to industry and the general public for help with the project, a number of local businesses (listed below) came forward to offer their assistance in the supply of vital resources for the production process, including ethanol, plastic bottles and packaging materials for distribution.

Adnams were one such business who provided assistance, donating some of their ethanol supplies towards the process.

Fergus Fitzgerald, Head Brewer at Adnams, said: “It’s important that we all do what we can to help one another. We looked into the best way to make hand sanitiser, working with the great team at UEA was the quickest and simplest way we could help.”

Now, with demand for sanitiser reducing and NHS trusts able to once again manage requests through their regular supply chains, the project has come to a natural conclusion.

However, the University will continue to work with Norfolk and Waveney cancer charity, Big C, until the end of August by supplying surplus bottles of hand sanitiser to support the delivery of their welfare packages for their service users.

Prof Nancy Fontaine, Chief Nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are incredibly grateful to UEA for their generous donation. Hand sanitiser has been a vital and precious commodity in preventing the spread of coronavirus over the last couple of months, protecting both our staff and our patients.

“Without this generosity we would not have been able to maintain the required hygiene standards, so crucial at a time like this. So I would like to thank everyone who was involved in this incredible achievement for supporting our frontline NHS and social care staff in tackling the virus.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Science, Mark Searcey said: “The Faculty of Science at UEA was keen to do anything it could to help out colleagues in hospitals and across the region and one way we could mobilise pretty quickly was to turn our chemical expertise to the production of hand sanitiser.

“Our team of technicians developed a production line in the new teaching laboratories and, following WHO guidance, rapidly used up our local supplies of isopropanol and ethanol to produce a sanitiser solution. It was then that other local community members chipped in to supply spray bottles and ultimately more ethanol so that we could continue to supply hand sanitiser for several weeks.

"It is a great credit to our technicians that they worked throughout the initial lockdown to generate much needed local supplies.

Thanks go to all the local companies for their generous donations to the project: Adnams; Break Free Retail; M & H Plastics, Oak Villa Distillery; PCE Automation; ROMIL Pure Chemistry; Simon Long Removals and Wild Knight Distillery.