Prof Peter J Ogrodnik is the course director for the MSc in Medical Engineering Design at Keele University and is a founder of the ENG4NHS project. Here, he talks to SSN about his new model for innovation in healthcare
Professor Ogrodnik, you founded ENG4NHS. Tell our readers about yourself and why you started this new body?
Firstly, I would like to thank you for interviewing me. I have been involved in medical devices research and medical devices manufacture for nearly thirty years. I run the MSc in Medical Engineering Design at Keele and am Honorary Professor at both Guangxi University of Science and Technology, China, and the University of Ateneo de Manilla, Philippines. When the Covid-19 pandemic raised its head in China I could see the implications and as soon as possible I offered my services to the Department of Health. However, like others who did the same, the government did not feel the need to accept my offer of help. But I could see the way things were moving with ventilators and PPE and it was just so obvious that the NHS, care homes, and other such healthcare providers needed help. I searched for organisations to join and there were none. I contacted the Institution of Engineering Designers (www.ied.org) to see if we could form a coalition of engineers: they were so supportive and we did just that, forming ENG4NHS. In the first week, we recruited nearly 100 engineers, and now we have more than 300 volunteers on the books. But we soon found out that we could not use NHS in the formal title, as it is a reserved name. We are now formally registered as ENG4HEALTHCARE, but we still like to call ourselves ENG4NHS. But we are becoming known as, simply, ENG4.
That is an interesting story, what does ENG4 do?
We decided to create a new model for innovation in healthcare. Our aim is for healthcare bodies such as the NHS, care services, Red Cross, Medicine Sans Frontiers (in fact any not-for-profit organisation that impacts healthcare) to come to us with a problem that needs solving. We have teams of engineers, designers and scientists who are willing to offer their time to find a solution. We are registering as a charity so that we can collect funds in order to provide that solution with little or no cost. If that solution results in a new device or service that creates funds, any monies made will go back into the charity and any surplus the charity holds will go to the NHS, the Red Cross or a healthcare charity (as shown in the Figure). Even monies from licensing will follow the same path. In this way, we have created a model that is a virtuous circle; there are no shareholders, and no one is in this for personal gain.
That is novel! How does it work?
The best way to answer that is to follow the path. At the moment we have a simple portal where anyone can register a problem (www.eng4nhs.org). This registration goes to a panel of experts called our “fore-sighting” team. Their job is to both understand the needs coming in from the portal but also to look at future trends. From this simple request, they contact the originator and find out the detail of the issue so that a “statement of need” can be drawn up. At this stage we allocate volunteers to projects and start solving the problem. We are working within the medical devices regulatory framework so that any solution will be usable within the healthcare sector. Once we have developed a solution, we then decide whether we can manufacture and distribute back to, for example, the NHS, or if it is better for us to partner with an established manufacturer. In the latter case, a licensing agreement ensures that any income goes back to the healthcare sector.
Have you any projects ongoing?
At the moment we are developing open source patterns for reusable, non-sterile scrubs that have anti-microbial coatings and which actually fit well/properly. We are even looking at the raw material supply chain so that, once released, virtually anyone with a sewing machine could make them from our patterns. We are also looking at how to minimise transmission from door handles and the like, and we are examining face protection for school teachers in preparation for their return to work. Recently, we started to look at modelling hospital wards using computer aided analysis software in order to maximise utilisation while minimising the risk of transmission to help with their return to normal activity.
We are modelling ourselves on that great organisation, the RNLI. We are building teams solving everyday issues so that we have everything in place and are ready for the next wave of COVID-19, or the next crisis – whatever that may be. More interestingly the project is also supporting those who have be made redundant as a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak by providing training opportunities.
That is interesting. How are you able to do this?
We have been very lucky as we have secured support from a number of areas. All our legal activity is being provided by Wright Hassall LLP, and our IP is being supported by Mathys & Squire LLP: for which we are truly grateful. At the moment our IT is being supported by Keele University, and we have been very fortunate in being donated World Class Engineering software by ANSYS. The IED have been really great providing all of the start-up support we needed but also providing training support to the volunteers. However, cash flow for essentials such as insurance, prototyping and product development is critical. Hence, we have started a Just Giving page for donations (justgiving.com/crowdfunding/eng4nhs). Once we have gained charitable status, we will be aiming for lottery funds to support our activities.
Is this project restricted to engineers only?
No, that is not the case. We already have surgeons, environmental officers and product designers registered as volunteers. This is very important; we need inter-disciplinary teams to solve the complex problems that healthcare generates. We invite anyone with a specialism they think can support this venture to volunteer at www.eng4nhs.org.uk.
Also, if anyone reading this has a problem they need solving then they can register the issue on the same webpage.