Essex Freemasons helping PICC Pals make medical history

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

A group of 15 Southend based volunteers are helping to make medical history from a simple idea that has turned into a cottage industry and a potential life saver for patients at hospitals and medical centres across the country

They call themselves PICC Pals, a dedicated team of ‘sewing bees’, packers and delivery drivers producing a very special range of armbands for people aged from two upwards. The bands are designed for patients who have to wear a PICC (a Peripherally inserted central catheter), which covers the catheter helping to protect it from accidental knocks or similar trauma. Such has been the success of PICC Pals in just nine months, that they were in danger of running out of funds until Essex Freemasons stepped in with a £1,000 grant which will keep the charity continue its work for at least the next year. The money from the Freemasons Shoeburyness Royal Arch Chapter and the Essex Freemasons Community Fund will cover the cost of materials and meet demand from hospitals as far away as Sheffield and Exeter.

For those still unsure what a PICC is – it’s a Peripherally inserted central catheter - a thin, flexible tube that is inserted into a vein in the upper arm and guided (threaded) into a large vein above the right side of the heart called the superior vena cava. It is used to give intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and other drugs. It is widely used by the NHS to treat a wide range of different conditions from cancer to diabetes. PICC Pals was launched by Nikki McCarthy, herself a cancer patient. She quickly worked out that the cotton tube supplied by the NHS did not protect a catheter that well and rapidly became soiled and unusable – so she created her own armband cover.

'We sourced our own materials and designed them so they would appeal to the user – bright colours for children, plain designs for men and fashionable designs for women', said Nikki. 'Friends soon heard about the scheme and in just a few weeks they were producing more bands and we had turned into a cottage industry'.

'The NHS approved the design and packaging and these are now supplied free of charge and with demand growing by the day I cannot tell you how grateful we are for the money from Essex Freemasons. It will keep us going for nearly two years'.

In just nine months PICC Pals have produced more than 4,000 armbands. The collection of covers has increased to include a lighter weight summer range, children’s and teenage covers and special occasion covers. 

PICC Pals are currently producing a Christmas range and have made special covers for weddings. One of the best additional effects of this work is that the nursing teams, without exception, have reported that they enjoy having something positive and novel to discuss with their patients, and something that can swiftly calm what is a very emotional and scary experience.  

David Wilson, representing Essex Freemasons, commented: 'This is clearly a fantastic venture and we are delighted that we can help. This was first drawn to our attention by members of Shoeburyness Chapter and once we learned what PICC Pals were doing were delighted to make a grant possible'. The Essex Freemasons Community Fund won the Pride of Essex ‘Team Pride of 2020’ Award for its supply of equipment to help frontline workers and volunteers in Essex during the pandemic.

Thousands of patients have PICCs inserted each year which is why the Southend Group will just continue to expand.

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