More than 1,200 face shields are unable to be distributed to frontline NHS workers due to problems in getting them certified.
Web designer Richard Blackwell, from Pentyrch, Cardiff, started making visors using 3D printers at the start of April and has built up a large team of volunteers to help assemble and distribute them.
To date more than 1,500 of their visors have been used by GPs, paramedics, hospital workers, and care home staff across south Wales free of charge. But the group have now been told their items of PPE should no longer be sent out as they may not meet the current safety criteria.
Their distribution has now come to a halt until the shields can be properly tested and approved for use.
Volunteer Scott Dewey, who works as part of the logistics side of the group, which is called Pentyrch and Surrounding Area PPE Visor Production, said: “We have made and delivered over 1,500 and we have got more than 1,200 waiting to go out. They will just be sat in boxes until this is all resolved.
“We’ve also had to inform people, who we have already given them to, not to use them. But most of these people, as you can imagine, would rather have what we’ve given them than nothing at all.”
Richard set up a GoFundMe page at the start of the month to enable him to create as many visors as possible. Currently almost £9,000 has been raised by members of the public and businesses including a £1,000 donation from the Pentyrch community.
As word spread about what Richard was doing his team of volunteers swiftly expanded.
But following a letter from Pete Phillips, of the surgical materials test laboratory at Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, the team were advised to stop making their PPE as they could be “illegal” without a CE mark.
Scott, a former assistant producer at BBC Cymru Wales, said there was currently a large backlog of orders for their visors that can’t be fulfilled.
“These visors were meant to be used as a stop gap,” he added. “We were seeing all the stories about the lack of PPE and we thought we could help.
“Our target was to make 500 a day and they were all being given away absolutely free. This bureaucracy and red tape should not be costing people’s lives.”
Paul May, from a separate volunteer group called Printing for NHS Wales based in Cardiff, said his visors were turned down for use at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff.
He said: “I look at the shields printed and think: ‘That could potentially be helping someone avoid getting this horrible virus’.
“They are not guaranteed [to protect] and we do not say they will but this has to be better than having nothing at all. It makes me so angry that hospitals turn these down and yet provide nothing at all for their staff.
“In the past week I have had two nurses break down in tears as at last they have something they can use. At least some sort of protection over a cotton mask is better than none.
“We have never said they will stop the virus and hand a letter out stating this and also saying these are not to be used on their own we also include in the letters how to clean them and various places to resupply the clear sheets.”
Similarly, Jason Aspinall from Vale Visors group in Barry, said his team of five have made 280 visors to date and have orders for another 500 for University Hospital Llandough, UHW, and the Royal Gwent, as well as a multitude of doctors’ surgeries, undertakers, and pharmacies.
He said: “Many folk have been using thin acetate, like the stuff used on overhead projectors, thin as paper, completely unsuitable for the face visor.
“The spec calls for 400um or more, which is the spec Vale Visors have been working to, using the approved head band design.
“So while the public making them think they’re helping they really do need to understand the practicalities of using a visor with inferior visor part not being fit for purpose.
“The public should be able to help where they can so long as they make the right thing.”
Since starting the project Scott said the team has been inundated with kind words of thanks as well as small gifts such as free ice cream.
They are now liaising with their local AMs and MPs to try and get these acetate visors out to those who need them.
The dozens of boxes of unused visors are currently being stored in a restaurant in Rhiwbina, Cardiff.
The Welsh Government confirmed all PPE needs to meet certain safety standards before it can be provided to frontline health and social care workers.
A spokesman said: “We have been overwhelmed by the generous offers of Welsh businesses to help produce PPE. We are working with businesses to manufacture extra supplies of PPE. If other companies would like to help they should contact the Wales Life Sciences Hub.”