RESEARCHERS at the University of Southampton have developed a prototype respirator to help keep frontline NHS workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The personal respirator called PeRSo was developed by researchers Paul Elkington and Hywel Morgan to address the limitations of existing protective equipment worn by doctors, nurses and other medical professionals while on wards.

The prototype is made from a fabric hood which covers the wearer’s head, and a plastic visor to protect their face.

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A small portable unit delivers clean air through a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter to the wearer from a battery-powered fan pack mounted on a belt.

In a rapid development process, the researchers have gone from a problem specification to working prototypes within a week, and conducted preliminary tests.

Paul Elkington, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton, said: "We must minimise the risk of infection for medical staff and stop them getting sick at the peak of the pandemic, so that they can care for others.

"The engineering team have rapidly developed something simple yet effective.

"The HEPA filtered air removes 99.95 per cent of particulate matter and the face mask protects from splashes, and so we think this will reduce the risk of infection".

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The prototype has already passed first-stage ‘sniff’ tests where a strong-tasting vapour is sprayed around the air inlet to see whether the user can detect it, and no penetration occurred.

The next steps are tests with doctors and nurses on wards, to obtain feedback on comfort, usability and efficiency.

These respirators have to be safe and comfortable when worn continuously for eight to nine hours.

The respirator is only a prototype at the moment, and is not yet available to all NHS staff.

Real world testing on NHS wards is currently underway and the university are in daily contact with manufacturers to make sure that once tested, the manufacturing of the product in large numbers can begin.

It is not yet know how long it will be until the equipment will be available to staff but initials tests took place last week at the University Hospital Southampton.

The cost of the PeRSo is also unknown at this early stage.

The university’s efforts to date will not be included in the manufacturing price.