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Lending a hand with sanitiser production

The state-of-the-art laboratories in the University of East Anglia’s recently opened New Science Building (NSB) are being put to good use during the coronavirus outbreak as a hub for the creation of vital supplies for local NHS organisations.

Technicians have been working in the NSB facilities to make hand sanitiser gel, which they have already started distributing to NHS organisations in Norfolk and beyond, with the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Norfolk County Council some of the trusts to benefit so far.

The Public Health England guidance for preventing the spread of coronavirus urges using sanitiser when washing hands but this increase in the use of handwash has resulted in shortages in hospitals and NHS healthcare facilities across the UK.

The scientists in the lab are currently producing around 170 litres of the gel a day. However, with an exhaustive supply of ethanol, UEA Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson has written a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for the Department of Health to review the tax duty on alcohol and ensure producers of ethanol do not have to incur the costs.

Prof Richardson said: “I want to say a huge thank you to our staff members who are working so hard in our New Science Building, which is a facility that is already showing its immense worth and scientific contribution.

“I am immensely proud that UEA is working so hard to get what is an essential resource to our NHS partners at this time. We are a University with the community at its heart and this is evidence of that.

“However, the quantities that we are producing cannot continue without a serious boost to our supply of ethanol and we are relying on the generosity of local producers, who themselves are battling with the financial effects of the coronavirus on their businesses. That is why I have written to Mr Hancock and asked him for what I consider to be critical financial support.”

A number of local businesses have already generously provided resources so far, including Founding Drinks Ltd, who have supplied ethanol, and RPC M&H Plastics, who have supplied bottles for the production.

However, UEA is continuing to ask organisations for their support in supplying materials.

Prof Mark Searcey, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Science at UEA, said: “We’re hugely grateful for the help and generosity that we’ve experienced so far from the organisations we’ve worked with and we really want to widen the net to include as many local businesses as possible.

“We all recognise the immense difficulties our fantastic NHS colleagues are facing and we want to ease at least some of this burden, so if you have anything – ethanol, bottles, equipment to help with the bottling process – that you think might be of use, we’d urge you to get in touch.”

For offers of assistance, email ueahscp@uea.ac.uk.