Innovation showcase: Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust

Innovation showcase: Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust

The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust might not be a name you’d expect to hear in the Innovation Showcase at VentureFest North East, but innovation is at the heart of their services. Dr Finn Willingham explains about the device they’ve created to treat PAD.

Describe your business in no more than 100 words

Rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is one of the largest and most successful teaching hospitals in England. Recognised nationally and internationally as a world leader in the delivery of high quality healthcare, we deliver more specialist services than any other Trust in the UK. 

Innovation runs throughout our organisation and is at the core of our patient-centred services.  Via VentureFest and other routes we are actively engaging with businesses to drive the commercial exploitation of our innovations for the benefit of patients and the NHS more widely.

What prompted you to enter the innovation showcase?

Our device has been developed by medical and engineering experts in the NHS and has been clinically tested in the North East.  We are now keen to engage with investors to explore options for a commercialisation route for the device to expedite its market launch and adoption by the NHS nationwide.

Describe the innovation that you’ve entered the showcase with

We are developing a medical device for the non-invasive, rapid detection of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) - predominantly for use in primary care. The device, which uses low-cost optical pulse sensing technology to detect the disease, presents a quick & novel solution for GPs to assess patients who may have this chronic condition.

Estimates of the total worldwide cases of PAD range from 66 to 202 million. The number is expected to grow, driven by an ageing population and increased incidence of diseases such as diabetes and obesity. PAD is reported to be underdiagnosed and undertreated, presenting opportunities for novel technologies to enter the market.  People showing early signs of PAD can go on to develop increasingly severe symptoms such as ulcers and, in severe cases, the need for limb amputation.  Early disease detection can also help identify those at risk from other cardiovascular disease including heart attack & stroke.  

How would you describe that innovation to your grandparents?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can cause leg pain on walking and may cause ulcers or gangrene.

Symptomatic PAD affects about 5% of people over 55 years old and over 100,000 are diagnosed with PAD each year in the UK. Currently, there are no devices which GPs can easily use in their surgeries to diagnose PAD so we are developing a device that will allow GPs to quickly and easily assess patients who may have this chronic condition.

What are the best and worst parts of trying to be innovative in your business?

That’s a difficult one – possibly the best part is that we have a fantastic group of highly talented individuals who are able to provide ideas and input into our work whilst perhaps the worst part is coping with the lengthy timescales that are inevitably associated with providing the necessary body of evidence to support successful medical device development.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Finding the right partners to invest in this opportunity to drive it forward – we have the device, the vision and can see the market opportunity and wish to be engaging with partners …NOW!

Where do you get support and advice to help you run your business?

There are numerous networks – both formal and informal – that aim to link local businesses with NHS bodies and these are a hugely valuable resource.   The Academic Health Science Network North East and North Cumbria has been particularly supportive to help roll out and implement Newcastle Hospitals’ new innovation strategy.

What would being chosen for the innovation showcase mean to you?

It’s a fantastic opportunity to provide an insight to the wider public into the innovative engineering talent that exist within the NHS and how it can be harnessed in a commercial environment.

Where do you see your company in five years’ time?

In the NHS our focus is, quite rightly, on patient care rather than commercialising medical device innovations. We are seeking to engage with companies who can embrace the technology and the opportunities to help drive their growth over the forthcoming years. 

What would you tell businesses who are hoping to be more innovative?

Encourage all your employees to contribute innovative ideas on the key offering of your business, be it products or services and have a culture that’s open to change.