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North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation TrustNorth Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

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North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

In 2017, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and Teesside University signed an agreement to form a powerful strategic partnership that is designed to enhance innovation in healthcare and education in the Tees Valley.

The partnership reinforces the commitment of the two organisations to work in collaboration through advanced education, training, research and innovation within the healthcare environment.

A key figure in the partnership is Tony Wilson, Commercial Development Manager at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, who is responsible for the development of new technologies and ways of working. “Together with Teesside University and other organisations we joined the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria, which was designed to increase innovation at pace and scale, in 2013,” he said. “The issue that the network seeks to address is that recognition for the development of new technologies often does not stay with the NHS, and a lot of IP from the NHS is sold to private companies for little or no reward. We have started to change that by harnessing some really good ideas emerging from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to prototyping and working with industry partners to test these on the front line.”

Tony explained that Teesside University had specifically helped North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust overcome the Trust’s own resistance to how innovation should be funded. “Going back three years, there was a reluctance to invest, which meant that the sticking point was developing ideas on paper into prototypes,” he said. “We spoke to industry partners about getting involved, but they wanted £20,000 to pump-prime innovation which was not possible within our budget. We were already a long-term partner of the School of Health and Social Care for the training of health care students including nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and radiographers as examples, and through Linda Nelson (Associate Dean for Enterprise and Business Engagement) I was introduced to colleagues in the engineering department with the idea of giving them student projects to take to the point of testing. Through this, we are able to access top-of-the-range skills, brilliant facilities and industry partners to develop ideas together.”

Since the signing of the strategic partnership in 2017, which brought formal recognition of the collaboration, two innovation projects have been particularly progressive. “Our assisted birthing lead had an idea six or seven years ago for a birthing stool to support patients in labour and birth,” Tony revealed. “The best and most comfortable position for giving birth is sitting on the toilet, but you cannot then give birth on it for obvious reasons, so effectively there has never been a birthing aid that ticks all the boxes. This concept was not taken forward at that time because there was no money to develop it, but we strongly believe in it so we spoke to Teesside about taking this on as a student project. The University provided in-house design, model exploration and was finally built by Dr David Hughes and his engineering students in just six months from commission. We then went back to David because we needed a more robust prototype built from infection-control materials, and this has subsequently been used in active birthing classes and mothers using the device in birth. We are now undertaking a programme of evaluation, involving up to 10 mothers, to explore its viability. The University has been instrumental in taking this idea from prototype to evaluation with live patients, and we hope to finalise the innovation and sell it.”

The engineering department is also working on a leg lifter prototype, following an idea by the Trust’s back care advisor. “Many patients with back problems are unable to lift their legs whilst sitting down which creates ulcers and wounds – this means that carers try to help lift patients’ legs, which can weigh up to a stone, to treat them and then end up being off work themselves with back injuries,” Tony explained. “Our colleague drew up the concept and, after an initial student-built prototype did not work in practice, this was taken forward by an exchange student from India who within weeks had come up with a different approach for how it could work. We are blown away with what he has done and, based on his design, we are now seeking to develop it and commercialise it in the long-term.”

Through the strategic partnership, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has also worked with the School of Computing, Media and the Arts on the creation of a mobile app and on video production. Meanwhile, NHS consultants are going into the School of Health and Social Care as guest lecturers. “I cannot speak highly enough of Teesside University – they are always positive and want to make it work for the Trust,” Tony said. “We have moved the relationship on from traditional health care applications and are benefiting from the University’s contacts and relationships spanning 20 years. Linda, David and other colleagues are really engaging, are completely supportive of what we want to do and never negative, even when things do not work out initially, as is the nature of innovation. The ultimate benefit is that these projects will save the NHS money in the long-term and the University’s skills and facilities have already helped to develop ideas to the next stage. Success is getting one or two projects over the line to hang our hat on and to get these embedded into service in our Trust and other NHS Foundation Trusts. Commercialisation is clearly part of our ethos and strategy: to be at the frontline of innovations for our Trust and patients.”

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