Are we seeing the start of a new PPE crisis?

Are we seeing the start of a new PPE crisis?

We sent a survey to every person who originally ordered face shields from 3D Crowd during the first wave. We hoped and prayed that the PPE crisis was over for good, however, while not a crisis, the people who replied gave us a mixed picture of the state of face shields supplies and PPE across the UK.

How we got here. When the first wave struck, it was clear and obvious that we were needed and we did the best we could do for a team of volunteers who for the most part had never met. It turned out that 8,000 volunteers armed with 3D printers, clear plastic visors, makeshift distribution hubs, gloves, cars and vans across the UK could do an awful lot. Over 200,000+ face shields delivered, a music video and CE approval later, the 3D Crowd community achieved a number of firsts for a community where 3D printing played a central role, but far from the only role. It’s this community spirit that has kept 3D Crowd going since demand thankfully fell. We’ve since evolved into something new and you can read more about that here, but that’s not what we are here for in this article. 

With Lockdown 2.0 and a surge in cases, we have a very different problem in the second wave compared to the first wave. The first wave was simple, get face shields to those who need them as quickly as possible. This time we hoped that we weren’t needed at all, compared to the first wave where we couldn’t believe we still were still needed 4, 6, 8, 12 weeks after we delivered the first face shields.

Many in the community quite rightly thought they would print a few and be done in a week or two as other supplies came on stream. Several months and a few hundred face shields later (in many cases) people were understandably shattered. So we weren’t prepared to turn on the bat signal for the sake of a bit of PR and some funding. Don’t get us wrong, we could do with some funding (and our VAT back please HMRC), but it had to be for the right reasons.  

So to see if the 3D Crowd community was even needed again, we emailed every single person who ordered face shields from us during the first wave with a very quick survey. We just knew that it wasn’t our place to assume that everyone had access to face shields in the NHS, care homes and other frontline workers. We’ve had 181 responses, approx 11% response rate and a whole lot of out of office replies.

We had enough data to get a good idea of what is happening and make an informed decision.  In short, the picture is mixed.

Question 1) Do you have enough Face Shields to last the next 4 weeks? (0 – no Face Shields – 10 – More than enough).

PPE Survey

The average score: 6.7

Great, our work here is done! Back to our other projects? Not quite, as sadly 7% of respondents scored 0, 35% of all respondents scored 5 or less which doesn’t seem all that confident to us. 65% of respondents being pretty to completely confident about their face shield levels is much better than during the first wave, but there are still obvious supply issues. Some of these issues appear to come down to quality based on responses to questions 3 and 4.

Question 2) How confident are you that you’ll have enough general PPE to last until the end of the year? (0 – No confidence – 10 highly confident)

We could have simply stopped at question one, but we wanted to see if there was a big difference in a slightly different question.

PPE Survey

The average score: 6.1

While this doesn’t seem dramatically different. However, only 24% scored this a 10, compared to 35% in our first question. 38% of all respondents scored 5 or less, with 5 being the second biggest choice. Again, not a huge difference but if the increase of cases continues into December and January, it would appear that we could have a growing issue. Perhaps short of a crisis, but enough concern that we should seriously consider starting to 3D print again and fulfilling orders. 

Question 3) Do you know of any organisation (NHS, Care Home or Charities) that is currently short of Face Shields? If so please provide more information below. ”

AKA Is this the tip of the iceberg? People, of course, talk to each other, so we wanted to simply ask if they knew anyone else who is currently short of Face Shields.

We had 87 responses to this question and the main response was either no or not yet. Yet, we also got a lot of other information which might prove useful. Here’s a list of some of the responses we received.

“GP practices are likely to be at most risk. “

“We now have access to the government PPE portal which offers us everything except face shields. I think a lot of NHS orgs will struggle with face shields.”


“no, face shields are the most robust element of PPE stock currently”

“we are currently reusing our face shields”

“the organisation I work for has many smaller care homes and supported living services which currently do not have extensive funding support “

“Locally we have organised enough ppe now. “

“I am unaware of any organization but I know the elderly in the community use them and are struggling to get hold of them – my Mum lives in sheltered housing and they are struggling to get hold of some. “

“Dementia Concern- we have deliveries and training booked in December – would be good to get another 20 or 30?”

“I am sure Care homes are as well as the NHS as numbers of escalated faster than previously.”

“I had some made by you for us in the community at MTVH in Letchworth and made a donation and would be happy to do the same again x”

“In school nursing we have not been issued with face shields as part of our PPE provision – not deemed necessary.”

“Any organisation registered with CQC should be getting free supplies through the PPE portal”

“No Government PPE Portal is supplying all PPE free of charge”

“I don’t know of any at the moment but this could change very quickly.”

So it appears that organisations are still falling through the cracks. Concerning, yes, enough to spool up for a second run? Not quite yet. Is it a case that the Government PPE portal is only available to certain organisations? One clearly states that the one thing you cannot get is face shields. Whilst others seem comfortable with their supply levels.

Question 4) “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us regarding Face Shields and PPE?”

An intentionally very open question. Of the 111 responses, many of them were praising the 3D Crowd efforts, and we’ll save the humble bragging for another time. Some responses did not make for good reading, whilst others were very insightful.

“GPs have had to fend for themselves and provide there own PPE it’s worrying when we run out, we have no gowns and masks are getting harder and more expensive to get hold of again”

“Face shield we are using at present are too short and don’t give enough protection”

“We were hugely appreciative of the free face shields that were provided to the community rehab team in the early days of Covid in Scotland – thank you so much. We now mainly wear goggles and masks rather than face shields, though do still stock face shields for use when appropriate.”

“Supplies are mostly quite robust now – though order times are typically at least 2 weeks for most types from our usual suppliers. Thanks for everything you have done to support!!”

So what is the plan? 

“It’s clear that there are still issues in the supply chain, whether that be stock, price, speed of delivery or quality and we have been heartened by the response of community members who have already said that they are ready to start again if needed.

However, we want to make sure that our response to this survey is measured and appropriate. We also want to make sure that anything we ask of the community isn’t effectively lining someone else’s pockets if face shields are available and they can afford to purchase them elsewhere. That’s of course not an accusation, but an element of due diligence that we feel is only right and proper, especially as our funds are diminished and we will need to raise funds from the general public to reimburse our community for their filament.”   Adam Clarke – Marketing Admin.

In summary: The plan is to continue to fulfil priority orders from our reserves and then monitor the situation via orders and proactive outreach. With CE Approval now gained, we now have other avenues we can also explore, and we will share more information about those as and when we know more. We will also be reaching out to the 3D Crowd community more formally to see who wants to commit to going again if indeed we are needed.

If you would like to donate to 3D Crowd, you can do so via Go Fund Me.

If you’d like to donate to Project Tetra to help to create ventilator splitters you can do so here or better yet, sign-up to Easy Funding and you’ll automatically raise £5 and create donations automatically whenever you shop online.