Innovative hospital doctor seeks to save Health Service funds with AMRC help

05 September 2014

A sharp-minded Accident and Emergency doctor has turned to design experts at The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) for advice on one of his money saving ideas for the NHS.

Sharps Container

In addition to being a hospital doctor, Paul Hercock is the brains behind Mantra Medical, based in Sheffield.

He has already used his frontline experience in A&E departments to come up with inventions that could cut down the risk of infections like clostridium difficile and the winter vomiting bug, norovirus, spreading in hospital.

More recently, he approached the AMRC, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, for advice on an idea for cutting down on the cost of disposing of 'sharps' - used scalpel blades, needles and the like.

Sharps become contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids when they are used they and have to be put in special bins, to ensure no one is put at risk of infection by accidentally getting cut.

When the bins are full they and their contents are autoclaved - raised to a high temperature under pressure in special ovens to sterilise them - or burnt.

Autoclaving or burning is far more expensive than approved methods for disposing of contaminated bandages, swabs and other materials, which are put in plastic bags and buried in deep landfill sites.

However, since swabs, cardboard carrying trays and the like are often used with sharps, they tend to be put in the sharps bins too.

"People put all sorts of stuff in a sharps bin, although they are up to 10 times more expensive to dispose of. Hospitals are literally burning money as a result," says Dr Hercock.

"I had this idea for a bin that would reject any waste that wasn't a sharp and I went to the AMRC to ask if the idea was a goer."

Dr Hercock took advantage of the European Regional Development Fund-backed Two Day Assist programme, which gave small businesses with good ideas but not much money the chance to explore their viability.

Thanks to the scheme he was able to get advice from the AMRC's Design Prototyping and Testing Centre.

"It was a really positive experience," says Dr Hercock. "Working with the AMRC was very useful - but not in the way I expected."

Dr Hercock had thought of using a metal detector to ensure only sharps went into the bin. Since sharps are made from non-ferrous metals, that wouldn't work, but Dr Hercock says the Centre came up with alternative solutions to the problem.

It also came up with an idea to prevent sharps bins being over-filled - another problem Dr Hercock had identified, which increases the risk of injuries and pushes up hospital insurance premiums.

Dr Hercock says consulting the Centre would have been worthwhile even if it had done nothing more than ruling out his original idea.

"Actually, a negative is just as important as a positive," he says.

"It saves you wasting your time and spending thousands of pounds and the really good, well-structured research they came up with showed there were a few ways around the problem.

"I'd be very keen to collaborate with the AMRC again in the future - in fact I have got another new idea that I would like to sit down with the AMRC and talk about."

Although Dr Hercock is still buzzing with ideas, his current priority is to find investment to get two earlier inventions to market.

One invention is for cleaning the probe of a pulse oximeter, which clips onto a finger and measures pulse and the oxygen saturation of the blood.

The other cleans the inflatable cuff that is slipped onto a patient's arm when their blood pressure or a sample of blood needs to be taken.

Current methods for cleaning aren't as easy or automatic as they need to be to prevent cross infection, but Dr Hercock's innovations could change all that.

  • The Design Prototyping and Testing Centre helped more than 120 Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) with backing from ERDF funding in the 12 months to the end of August 2014.
  • Although funding for the AMRC free Two Day Assist programme ceases at the end of September 2014, the Centre remains keen to continue helping small and medium sized enterprises and multi-nationals to develop new ideas and expand.

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