Clinical Scientists and members of the NCA Clinical Engineering R&D Team Prawin Samraj, Hannah Safi and Surayyakhanam Kayamkhani receiving the award

Innovation to improve patient safety wins award

A novel initiative to improve safety for patients with difficult airways who need surgery  has been awarded  the Academy of Healthcare Sciences award for innovative practice to enhance patient safety.

The  new methods involving medical imaging, computer design and 3d printing have been introduced into clinical practice within the NCA in a collaboration between our anaesthetists, ENT surgeons and clinical engineers. The  work by the Airway Innovation Group (AIG) has reduced risks of complication and adverse events.

Mr Chai Gadepalli, Consultant ENT Surgeon, explained: “A difficult airway is where the patient has complications which make it difficult to provide oxygen during operations. If the anaesthetic team cannot provide oxygen, either through a mask or through a tube inserted into the airway (intubation), then the operation may need to be stopped, or cannot be attempted in the first place, as the risks to the patient may be too great.”

Dr Stuart Watson with a 3D printing machine

The NCA Clinical Engineering R&D team, working within the AIG, have developed a set of new methods and instruments specifically for patients with difficult airways, and have moved this into routine clinical service within the Trust, a world-first for such a service. The team has developed an effective clinical workflow enabling medical images to be turned into 3d printed planning models, enabling surgical teams to simulate the procedures, and novel 3d printed custom patient-specific guides to facilitate safe intubation.

Since 2022, these methods have been applied to support surgical procedures on 68 patients with difficult airways. For patients with the rare disease mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS), trial endoscopic investigations are carried out, typically under anaesthesia, which brings significant risks to these patients. The use of the new techniques eliminated the need for these trial investigations, improving patient safety and reducing theatre time by an estimated 100 hours.

Most recently the team has developed custom patient-specific guides to further facilitate safe intubation in recent surgical procedures. The NCA team has also supported patients nationally and internationally within Europe and Asia. The methods have also been adapted and applied for other surgical applications including over 60 complex orthopaedic and neurospinal surgical procedures.

Dr Stuart Watson, NCA Head of Clinical Engineering said: “This is an excellent demonstration in how collaboration between medical and healthcare science colleagues can work to effectively introduce and apply new technologies into clinical service for patients benefit. NCA surgical teams are determined to provide the best care and treatment options for patients with difficult airways. Our clinical engineers demonstrated what they can bring to modern medicine: using their skills and knowledge of medical image processing, software development and materials engineering, to provide solutions, rapidly and cost-effectively, for clinicians.”

Main picture: Clinical Scientists and members of the NCA Clinical Engineering R&D Team Prawin Samraj, Hannah Safi and Surayyakhanam Kayamkhani receiving the award. Photo by John Behets.

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