3D masks, vaccine trials and hand sanitiser factories: How UK unis are helping the NHS

Everyone is stepping up

In this crazy time where the NHS is fighting hard every day to keep going and support its patients, universities appear to be joining together to help in this battle.

Many have received funding to help develop testing or treatment, some are converting labs into sample analysis sites or production lines and others are creating online resources to keep everyone going.

Here’s a round up of what universities all over the UK are doing to help out our NHS.


Scientists at Birmingham Uni have converted their labs into hand sanitiser factories. They’re producing stock for social workers across the city.

Other labs on campus are being turned into testing sites to support the efforts of the NHS.

They’ve also posted a video on their Facebook page and also a blog entry which help guide parents who now find them in a home-schooling position with young children and teenagers.

How to be mum or dad AND teacher

Many parents are wrestling with how to be mum or dad and then switch to being teacher too during the #COVID19 lockdown.So Professor of Education Leadership, Colin Diamond, has some tips that could help – whether you're helping young children or teenagers who probably know more about the subject material than you!You can read Prof Diamond's blog and find his 12 tips here ⬇️https://blog.bham.ac.uk/socialsciencesbirmingham/2020/03/25/becoming-the-teacher-hopes-and-fears-taking-on-the-job-at-home/

Posted by University of Birmingham on Tuesday, 7 April 2020


A company started by Edinburgh alumni which specialises in printing 3D prosthetic limbs are using their time and resources to step up and help the NHS by printing PPE instead.

On the Edinburgh Uni website, one of the founders, Elisabeth, said that she was coming to terms with this new reality and now wanted to help out.

She said: “Giving back to our communities has always been at the heart of our technology. Right now it feels important that we all do our part to help out in any way we are able.”

Medical students have also set up a babysitting scheme to ease the stress of professionals whilst they’re at work.


Glasgow University are playing a vital part in increasing testing as they are going to host a major facility specialising in just that.

This is a big undertaking for the university but they’re utilising space on the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus to make it happen.

In a statement on the university website, the Vice Principal thanked staff for their efforts on the project so far. She said: “I am incredibly grateful to all colleagues who have volunteered their time, expertise and skills for this testing facility.

“As a result of their willingness to help, we have a team of highly skilled people, a clinical space and the core equipment to start work alongside our NHS colleagues immediately.”

Image via Pexels

Imperial College London

In what could be world first, final year Imperial medical students sat their exams unsupervised at home so that 280 students could join the front line months earlier than planned.

Work in mathematical modelling conducted by staff at Imperial is informing the UK and US response, providing insights into outbreak, spread and further risk.

A lab has also been converted into a testing suite which is handling up to 1,500 samples per day.


A administrator at Lancaster Uni has created an at home production line in her spare bedroom to make 3D face shields to send to NHS staff.

The public have been donating to fund the project, meaning Lauren Emery and her partner were able to order two more printers to triple the amount of masks they can make each day.


Uni of Leeds are offering lab space, staff, and equipment to help in developing diagnostic testing. They’ve also sent seven major bits of lab equipment down to the new NHS testing centre in Milton Keynes.

Additionally, car parks and also accommodation are being offered for use by NHS staff free of charge.


Liverpool Uni are wanting to focus on supporting medical staff with the psychological challenges they’re facing during this time. They launched this with a video of celebrities reading lines from a passage. 

Liverpool Hope Uni has set up a volunteering system so staff and students can help those in a more vulnerable position. They’re delivering free school meals, walking dogs, offering one-to-one social support and picking up medication as and when this is needed.

Nurses spoke of their gratefulness at receiving free hand cream from Liverpool hope to help fix their over sanitised hands!


Scientists and clinicians from all across the city are stepping up to create a rapid response research unit, all with the goal of saving lives. Researchers from Manchester Uni are fully involved with this, passionate to make important progressions.

They’re working on new treatments, investigating disease mechanisms, reducing the impact on public health and speeding up diagnosis and testing.

Almost 500 Manchester students have stepped up to volunteer for the NHS. They’re taking on all kinds of roles from babysitting doctors children to helping on GP reception desks.

The uni has handed over the management of its PET-MR scanner suite, four beds and any spare alcohol gel to the NHS too.

The University of Salford are also joining in with these efforts and have contributed a specialist machine which tests swabs from the nose or mouth of a patient and can pick up as small as one particle of the disease.

This donation is set to allow for tens of thousands more tests.


Newcastle Uni cancelled all final year medical exams meaning that students qualified early and can go out onto the front line to help.

Fourth and fifth year medics have created the North East group of Medical Students helping hands. They’re offering help to NHS staff with things such as childcare, shopping or looking after pets whilst they’re completing more and longer shifts.

Newcastle Uni is situated right next to the main hospital in the city so the on campus supermarket remains open for NHS staff to use. Accommodation and car parking are also being offered where it is needed.

The uni is also running courses online for free which aim to provide support for people living with dementia who may get lonely at home.

Queen’s Belfast

Queen’s received a grant which is to be used to help find a treatment. The lead research Ultan Power, told Belfast Live that the £300k allocation of money puts the university in a “unique position” when it comes to finding a treatment.


A team at University of Southampton are developing new PPE which is set to be more effective than standard surgical masks.

The new style respirator has the possibility of being used for six months compared to current single use equipment. It will feature a fabric hood with a plastic visor.

They’re also helping with the production and testing of an inhaled drug which aims to prevent, in high risk patients, the worsening of symptoms.

A child psychology lecturer at the university has produced videos for parents to help them approach conversations about the illness with their children.

Solent University has donated over 4,000 pairs of disposable gloves to the London Ambulance Service and has given staff car parks and sports halls for storage of vital equipment.


A temporary morgue is being built on Sussex campus to help cope with the rising death toll. It’s the largest of three new morgues in the city with 3000 spaces to be made available.

The uni have also helped in the production of PPE and testing. Final year medical students graduated early and are set to join the front line as of May.

A Sussex student has been printing 3D face shields to help protect NHS staff! His campaign has raised over £750 meaning he’s aiming to make 200 shields.


Staff at The University of East Anglia recently made over 1200 litres of hand sanitiser in one week!

A uni spokesperson told The Tab: “By our calculations we make that around 350, 000 pairs of hands that have been cleaned.”


York University have donated food, waste disposal items, gloves and sterile needles to the NHS where they were in need of it.

Teams at York St John have been using 3D printers to create extra PPE.

Featured image credit: Professor Tom Solomon at Liverpool University

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