Clinical Research Office. A partnership between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield

Pioneering medical technology research organisation celebrates ten years

A pioneering national research programme which has led to the rapid development of technologies and devices that help patients living with life-changing conditions live more independent lives has celebrated its tenth anniversary.

The National Institute for Health Research's Devices for Dignity MedTech and In vitro diagnostic Co-operative turned ten on 6 July 2018, just a day after the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

The organisation, which is led by Professor Wendy Tindale OBE, Scientific and Innovation Director for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was established by the Department of Health and Social Care as one of two healthcare technology cooperative pilots in 2008.

Since then the organisation has gone from strength to strength, bringing together innovators, engineers, product developers and the expertise of researchers and scientists from the NHS and universities to test, trial and bring to the market life-altering technologies for patients living with long term conditions such as motor neurone disease, kidney disease amongst other debilitating conditions.

This includes the development of a revolutionary neck collar for patients with motor neurone disease. The collar, which is now in use in 25 NHS Trusts across the country, makes everyday tasks such as eating and communicating easier for patients living with the debilitating effects of the disease.

As well as being the first of its kind medical technology organisation, which helps organisations of all shapes and sizes develop innovative technologies, medical devices or novel manufacturing processes, experts from the organisations have made sure that the views of patients, families and carers are at the heart of the product development.

This has helped organisations such as Quanta, a medical devices company, develop a small, compact portable home dialysis device which will help patients get the treatment they need at home rather than having to make lengthy four-hour trips to the hospital. Using this approach, the technology can be developed with the patients’ needs in mind and adjusted during the development process to ensure that it is fit for purpose – acting as a catalyst for rapid innovation and ensuring novel medical technologies reach patients more quickly.

In 2016 Devices for Dignity was awarded £750,000 from the Department of Health and Social Care to lead a new breakthrough research collaboration to rapidly develop functional, usable prosthetic devices for children who have lost limbs. Currently there are many challenges in developing such devices, which can be pivotal in restoring confidence and mobility in children, particularly as children and young people need frequent modifications due to growth rate and the need to replace damage done through natural wear and tear.

Ten cutting-edge research projects, including 3D printed Lego® plates to encourage more children to make more use of split hook design and customisable covers that children can change according to their mood, situation or changing tastes, are currently being funded through the Devices for Dignity-led National Institute for Health Research’s Child Prosthetics Research Collaboration.

Professor Wendy Tindale OBE, Clinical Director for Devices for Dignity and Scientific and Innovation Director for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Ten years ago there was limited collaboration between the engineering sector and the NHS. Our organisation was the first of its kind medical technology organisation, spearheading much-needed innovation in the NHS by providing specialist input and advice to help engineers, product developers and manufacturers develop and bring to market products and technologies capable of transforming the lives of people living with long-term conditions and life-changing illnesses. We are proud that patients, their families and carers have been at the heart of our ten-year journey and that our footprint in pioneering a new approach to working with industry that has brought real-life solutions to unmet patient needs has led to the development of many other successful partnerships between the NHS and industry.”

Examples of other successful projects include a multi-functional paediatric chair, a digital communication toolbox, a special teddy bear-shaped catheter bag for children, an early-warning monitor to detect kidney disease before any apparent symptoms and a device for improving swallowing after a stroke.

To celebrate a special event took place at Westfield Health in early July. Key speakers included Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Dr Louise Wood Director of Science, Research and Evidence, Department of Health and Social Care, Professor Wendy Tindale OBE, Clinical Director for Devices for Dignity, Sue Dunkteron OBE, Chair for Devices for Dignity, Professor Rory O’Connor, Deputy Director for Devices for Dignity, Dr Sandip Mitra for Devices for Dignity, Lise Sproson, Senior Research Associate for Devices for Dignity and David Coyle, a kidney disease patient and patient partnership lead for Devices for Dignity.


Photo: MND patient Philip Brindle (centre) wearing the newly launched Head Up Neck collar, which is now being used by at least 25 NHS Trusts with suitable patients thanks to the Devices for Dignity Cooperative