Increasing complexity of hospital technology leads to warning from Institution of Mechanical Engineers that NHS needs to invest in engineering excellence
A lack of engineering expertise within NHS trusts is putting lives at risk, according to a new report.
The low priority currently given to experienced NHS engineers is leading to problems caused by faulty medical equipment, cancelled operations and poor value for money for taxpayers, says the report published this week by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Entitled Biomedical engineering: advancing UK healthcare , the document calls for urgent action to prioritise the role of engineers in the NHS and introduce a chief biomedical engineer in every acute trust in the country.
Technology is leading to huge advances in healthcare, but this technology is dependent on the work of biomedical engineers who are inadequately recognised and in short supply in most hospitals
The call follows the release of figures which show that, in 2013, 13,642 incidents related to faulty medical equipment were reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), leading to 309 deaths and 4,955 people sustaining serious injury. These incidents can vary from faulty pacemakers to faulty equipment like CT or MRI scanners used to diagnose patients. This faulty equipment, or the unavailability of it, is also one of the major causes of cancelled operations.
And, with the increasing importance and complexity of technology used in hospitals, the instutition claims the situation needs to be addressed quickly to protect patient safety.
Dr Patrick Finlay, lead author of the report and institution chairman, said: “Government and the NHS need to take urgent action to prioritise the role engineers play in hospitals and trusts.
“Technology is leading to huge advances in healthcare, but this technology is dependent on the work of biomedical engineers who are inadequately recognised and in short supply in most hospitals.
“Clinicians and engineers need to work in partnership to ensure that advances in medical technology are applied in the best interest of patients. The benefits of hospitals having a designated chief biomedical engineer responsible for healthcare technology are clear.
It is vital that engineers are at the heart of the planning, procurement, use and maintenance of high-value equipment, as well as its calibration. It is only with engineers that properly-informed choices on these issues can be made in the best interests of patients and taxpayers
“It is vital that engineers are at the heart of the planning, procurement, use and maintenance of high-value equipment, as well as its calibration. It is only with engineers that properly-informed choices on these issues can be made in the best interests of patients and taxpayers."
He added: "This report demonstrates some of the exciting ways engineers can revolutionise healthcare through, for example, new, low-invasive treatments to sense, measure and manipulate the human body; or by developing novel ways of tracking and monitoring personal health through mobile phone apps. But, in order to reap the full benefits that technological advances can offer UK healthcare and the NHS specifically, the people who design, make, maintain and use these pieces of equipment need to be heard.”
As the technology used in hospitals becomes increasingly complex, the danger of improperly-calibrated and validated equipment is increasing.
In 2008 a medical devices alert was issued warning of incorrectly-calibrated weighing scales which led to a number of patients being given the incorrect dosage of medication. Furthermore equipment failure or unavailability is cited as a major reason for cancellation of operations in NHS hospitals.
According to the report, the UK is one of the leading countries in academic research in the area of biomedical engineering and has an excellent record in inventing and researching new medical devices. But often the results of this research are then sold to international corporations for development and marketing because of the lack of long-term domestic venture capital. The development of many technologies, and in particular m-Health and e-Health solutions, is also being hampered by a lack of international consensus on standards, practices and patents.
In its document, The Institution of Mechanical Engineers makes four key recommendations to tackle this: