Ballykelly firm Seating Matters has been making vital shields to protect health care workers while they are ventilating patients during the COVID crisis

A Co. Derry company has been protecting health care workers by supplying high-end protective gear for intensive care units (ICU) during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:56 am
Seating Matters has been producing vital gear for use in intensive care units (ICU) during the COVID-19 crisis.

Seating Matters, based outside Ballykelly, is usually 100 per cent focused on making therapeutic seating for disabled adults and children.

The family-owned firm has specialised in creating chairs to provide comfort, postural support, pressure management and improve quality of life, since 2008.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the company has teamed up with medical experts and designers to create vital box shields to protect health care workers while they are ventilating patients.

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A Seating Matters employee producing medical equipment at the companys workshop outside Ballykelly.

Martin Tierney, managing director, explained: “We have been making clinical therapeutic chairs for hospitals and we are very close to the front line in that respect because a lot of our chairs are being used in intensive care and in COVID wards.”

The ventilation of patients is, of course, considered one of the most dangerous procedures for clinical staff due to greater exposure to aerosol generation.

This means the equipment being produced at the Seating Matters plant on the quiet Carnamuff Road near Glack is critical for patient care in local hospitals and in facilities further afield.

“We’ve been involved in a few projects on a not-for-profit basis. We offered up our own facilities, our machinery and our time to see how we could help,” said Mr. Tierney.

The company was able to start the new lines of protective health service equipment while carrying on production of the therapeutic chairs that have made its name.

Mr. Tierney said: “We’ve continued producing chairs the whole way through but with the design skills and the machinery we had, and our supplier base, we were able to help manufacture those other parts. We did it in addition to what we were already doing.

“There was a huge surge in demand for it. That side of things has stabilised a little bit at this stage which is very good and now we are seeing more hospitals and care facilities are rehabilitating patients that were ill and there is a steady demand for our chairs now as a result.”

Seating Matters was originally established 12 years ago by Martin’s mother Martina, an occupational therapist who had identified a global demand for therapeutic chairs.

It now has 50 staff on its payroll but Mr. Tierney said it had to furlough a quarter of its staff at the height of the crisis.

He said the government furlough scheme was a lifeline for many businesses.

“I’m grateful that we can keep moving forward because there are a lot of places that are stopped altogether. I’m just grateful that we are not in that boat.”

The firm has implemented strict social distancing, has created new hand washing facilities and has even changed an office entrance in order to safeguard staff against coronavirus infection.

Mr. Tierney said meeting existing and new orders with a reduced staff and under a strict social distancing regime had been a fine balancing act.

“It’s a difficult situation for us to be in because we have to keep our people safe and still meet the needs of the patients and the hospitals who are asking for the equipment. It’s a tightrope to balance.”

He said the company’s success was down to its loyal and committed local workforce.

“The credit goes to all the staff we have at Seating Matters. We have a remarkable group of people. On the first week of lockdown they pulled out all the stops to got the products out for front line workers and the people they are caring for.

“They are amazing people. They have done everything that needed to be done and it’s an amazing show of solidarity from the team that we have.

“It’s fantastic what people can do when they pull together to one common aim,” he said.

Mr. Tierney said Seating Matters was a company that sought to make a difference in the best of times. Amid the worst health crisis in over a century the Ballykelly company has really come into its own.

“We’ve been supplying the health service in NI, the Republic of Ireland, across the UK and a few other export countries as well. COVID-19 has changed everything and it’s a very dynamic situation every day.

“It’s nice to be able to be supplying to our own local health service with doctors and nurses and caregivers and cleaners and pharmacists who are our neighbours and they can benefit from the products we are making.”