An innovative mindset is serving Ireland well as we tackle Covid-19
Irish companies could have hunkered down and waited for an upturn, but they have instead shown ingenuity and a collaborative mindset
“Irish companies can rise to challenges like this. They are responding to an opportunity on the one hand, but they are also motivated to find solutions to problems faced by the healthcare system and society generally”. Photograph: Getty Images
Irish companies have been assisting the response to Covid-19 through innovative and creative solutions ranging from hand sanitisers to testing kits and remote monitoring technology for patients.
“It shows how quickly Irish companies can rise to challenges like this. They are responding to an opportunity on the one hand, but they are also motivated to find solutions to problems faced by the healthcare system and society generally. Nowhere is this more evident than in PPE and cleaning and hygiene products.”
Part of the difficulty relating to those products was the length of the supply chains.
“We are dependent for products on distant suppliers in countries like China, ” Kelly says. “Even when supplies exist, they are under pressure from the massive increase in demand throughout the world. Having even some basic level of capacity here in Ireland is good.”
Hand sanitiser production is a case in point.
“There is probably about a dozen companies manufacturing these products in Ireland now, several at scale. They have repurposed manufacturing lines to make them, and are collaborating with distilleries to source the alcohol. It has been very encouraging to see companies like EPC, Univet, Ovelle, and Chanelle move into this area. It is important that these products are available for hospitals and nursing homes, but they are also needed on supermarket shelves. Ultimately we could see these products being exported.”
The shortage of face shields and face mask has also been addressed.
“We have seen a number of companies like Key Plastics step up to manufacture face shields for use in the health service. Irema introduced new shifts and other measures to increase face mask production. Another company is looking at reusable masks for use in different settings.”
These companies are working closely with organisations like the HSE and the Health and Safety Authority to ensure that their products meet the standards required for use in healthcare applications.
“By and large companies in Ireland are used to meeting very high standards,” says Kelly. “What we are seeing now is a growing capability to produce masks locally, and we are seeing the same thing in other areas with companies like Ventec now making aprons. We are not completely dependent on imports for them now.
“Companies are repurposing their facilities to make these products. In some cases they are replacing products where demand has fallen off. They are showing resilience and their entrepreneurial capability is shining through. They are taking risks in their response to the crisis. They could have hunkered down and waited for the upturn, but they didn’t.”
In the testing area, Aalto Bio Reagents developed a nucleocapsid protein for diagnostic tests within a week.
“The company worked very closely with the HSE and the National Virus Reference Laboratory on this. Serosep is another company that is manufacturing test kits. They showed that their platform can also be used to test for the Covid-19 virus.
“Modular Automation in Shannon is developing a mobile robot sterilisation solution for hospitals which uses UV light. You have to recognise the courage and capability of companies like that. What they are doing is the result of an innovative mindset, which is serving the country very well at present.”
Irish companies are also active in digital health, with PMD Solutions trialling new respiratory monitoring technology with Beaumont Hospital. Jinga Life has developed technology for the e-transfer of CT scans, while patientMpower is providing tools for patients with lung complaints to be followed remotely with integrated medication management. The company is also providing a new remote triage service for Covid-19 patients in the home.
Kelly believes Ireland has certain natural advantages when it comes to innovative responses such as these. “Our small size and degree of connectedness can make everything so much quicker than in bigger countries and systems,” he says.
“Just a phone call or two can make connections. For example, we are seeing Irish companies making parts for ventilators as a result of the connections they made through Enterprise Ireland technology centres.
“The ability to bring companies, researchers and engineers together to work on these things is very important. You shouldn’t underestimate just how valuable that is in a time of crisis. That ingenuity and collaborative mindset gives us a fighting chance of taking on challenges like this now and in the future.”