Chemistry at Brighton

University of Brighton chemistry blog

Hal with NHS staff

Brighton scientists think outside the box

University of Brighton scientists have helped to ensure that a hospital’s supply-chain of a vital chemical used in ventilators for COVID 19 and other critically ill patients remained unbroken and secure.

The university received an enquiry from Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, who were wisely looking ahead to ensure a constant supply of the reagent.

The chemical, soda lime, a mixture of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and calcium oxide (CaO), scrubs carbon dioxide (CO2) from a patient’s exhaled air so the air can be recirculated, in a similar way to navy diver’s rebreathing apparatus.

Professor Hal Sosabowski, the university’s Professor of Public Understanding of Science and colleagues responded to the call, before Professor Lizzy Ostler from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences stepped in.

Professor Sosabowski said: “I made local enquiries in our own chemical inventory but it became clear we couldn’t just use laboratory-grade reagents.

“Professor Ostler, a keen recreational diver, came up with the ingenious idea of contacting dive centres whose members use rebreathing equipment as an alternative to normal SCUBA tanks.

“Rebreathing equipment recirculates exhaled air, scrubbing the CO2 so the air can be rebreathed. This equipment uses the same soda lime as would be used in ventilators.” Enquiries were made with Graeme Pace, owner of Ocean View Diving in Lancing, West Sussex, who redirected Professor Sosabowski to Custom Divers in Redhill, Surrey, which had a supply and was enthusiastic to be of help. Professor Sosabowski said: “I went to Custom Divers’ office and met owner, Alex Vassallo, who provided 100 kg without demur. He also made recommendations concerning particle size and grade thus ensuring closest comparable product reached the hospital.

“We at the university were pleased to help but a big thanks goes to the two dive centres. It’s a lovely example of organisations stepping up.”

Michael Wilson CBE, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “A crucial part of our response to coronavirus has been the detailed planning for the large increase in patients we knew we would see. As part of this, we always want to make sure we have enough supplies to cope.

“We have received so much support from the local community and we are incredibly grateful to the University and local dive centres who helped bolster our supplies in case we ever needed more than we had available.”

Laura Ruby • June 5, 2020

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