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Red tape stalls distribution of Northern Ireland-made NHS coronavirus visors

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Employees from Denroy Group are pictured assembling quantities of the Hero Shield visor at the factory in Bangor, County Down. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th April 2020 -  Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Employees from Denroy Group are pictured assembling quantities of the Hero Shield visor at the factory in Bangor, County Down. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th April 2020 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Employees from Denroy Group are pictured assembling quantities of the Hero Shield visor at the factory in Bangor, County Down. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th April 2020 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

A Co Down baby product business that designed a 'hero shield' for front line NHS staff is struggling to get them into hospitals because of red tape.

There are now fears that the group of businesses which began manufacturing the face visors for only 50p a unit will be forced to halt production completely.

Adam Murphy (41), who helped launch the initiative last month, blamed the "complicated" process of securing orders from the Department of Health.

He said: "It seems absurd that all the focus is on importing PPE (personal protection equipment) from China, and local suppliers, who have a quality product at low prices which can be dispatched immediately, are being ignored."

Mr Murphy said his business started putting things in place weeks ago but production only began on Friday. He added: "We eventually got a request from the department to send the items for review, but they lost them and we've had to resend.

"That was a couple of days ago and we have had no feedback.

"We need cash flow to keep doing it, so if we don't get more money we will have to stop."

Mr Murphy co-founded Newtownards-based company Shnuggle with his wife Sinead more than a decade ago following the birth of their first child.

But when orders from over 40 countries around the world began to dry up, the team of 19 staff shifted focus entirely.

"Within three days we devised a final concept for a face mask that we could begin working on immediately," he explained.

The firm's lead designer began working from home on March 21 and came up with 20 designs over the weekend. Using a 3D printer, Fiona Bennington had a prototype by Monday morning.

"But we are not a manufacturing company, and the scale is humongous," added Adam.

The design engineer reached out to other experts which resulted in companies throughout Northern Ireland coming together in a time of crisis.

It resulted in the launch of www.heroshield.net where NHS workers can place personal orders to secure the vital safety equipment free of charge. Over a dozen local companies are helping manufacture the face shields for as little as £0.50 per unit.

The not-for-profit collective has been relying on crowdfunding to allow medics to place orders directly - raising almost £24,000 so far.

"We've raised enough to get started but not enough to keep us going," Mr Murphy said. "We need more money and are thinking of ways to fund it. So far the public has been very generous."

Some 10,000 face shields have already been shipped, and another 50,000 are to be dispatched this week, but Mr Murphy has been forced to put the brakes on new orders. Production has now been paused. "It could get to the point where we will have to stop," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed measures have been taken to make the process easier due to urgency.

"HSC is making use of the provisions within the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 that permits organisations to set aside normal tender procedures and negotiate directly with suppliers," they said. However, they did not comment on any exchanges with Mr Murphy.

Belfast Telegraph