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Hospitals to use UV air cleaners to tackle COVID-19 after IMechE develops standard for NHS

07 January 2022

A low-cost, effective solution to remove COVID-19 from the air using UV sanitisers will soon be used in hospitals after a team led by engineers from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers developed a standard to regulate them for use in the NHS.

(Credit: IMechE)
(Credit: IMechE)

A trial at a hospital in Cambridge has shown when ultraviolet sanitisers were installed in two wards, they deactivated the COVID-19 virus present in the air. Tests before and after showed the virus was active.

This could be equally applied in schools, dramatically reducing risk of infection transmission in schools, and preventing costly heating bills by halting the requirement to have windows open.

The standard was developed by a group of specialist engineers which was led by NHS Chief Engineer Mike Ralph who is also a Fellow of the Institution and included members of the Institution’s Pandemic Infections Control Solutions team.

Frank Mills FIMechE, a founder member of the Pandemic Infections Control Solutions group, said: “The development of this standard will have a huge impact as there is a major drive to improve air quality in healthcare facilities to combat COVID-19. Engineers have been at the forefront to ensure the NHS has the guidance it needs to ensure the sanitisers it buys are fit for purpose and effective in tackling the virus.”

Dr Alice Bunn, Chief Executive of the Institution, said: “Our mission is to improve the world through engineering, and this is a fantastic example of how engineering skills can make a difference to all our lives. Ensuring the air indoors is as pathogen-free as possible will be major step forward to reducing COVID-19 transmission in hospitals, as well as places like schools, colleges and other public buildings.”

UV cleansers are a lower cost and more flexible solution than HEPA filters traditionally used in healthcare. The UV cleansers can be installed as “mobile” units easily and quickly and plugged into a nearby socket. 

Another advantage of UV is the HEPA system has filters which need to be changed regularly and disposed of by a person who is protected in PPE.

The standard was signed off on 20 December and will be issued by the NHS as the standard for all NHS Trusts to use in procuring UV air cleaners. The standard also gives guidance for using them to reduce COVID-19 infections as well as all other airborne pathogens.

For schools, effective ventilation is essential for teaching and learning in a productive environment. Members of the Institution are involved in a trial at St.Teresa’s School, in Morden, Surrey where they have installed one UV unit into every classroom. 

The project at the school is supported by an award sponsored by UKRI (Innovate UK) to investigate the use of air cleaners to mitigate COVID-19 transmission in offices, healthcare, and schools. 

Prof. Fred Mendonça, ESI Group, Principal Investigator in the UKRI ventESI project, said: “We can positively reflect the growing resilience of UK manufacturing and professionals in healthcare and education. Increasing awareness of airflow and clean air circulation builds intuition, creates good practices and informs decision making.”

Justin Dachtler, Head Teacher, St. Teresa’s Primary School, Merton, said: “Classroom ventilation for clean air remains a priority for us to ensure good attention-span, health and wellbeing of our pupils and staff. The jargon and the science behind this can be confusing at first but, very quickly, well-chosen imagery and plain language makes the benefits tangible not just to professionals in Education, but to our children and parents too. The collaborative work and shared learning go far beyond the obvious benefits of clean air.” 

For more information about the Cambridge hospital trial, here is a link to the journal article.


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