Lessons from treating COVID-19 patients could save many more lives
Researchers in Nottingham have received £620,000 of national funding for an innovation that could save the lives of patients being treated in critical care or other hospital settings.
From this month, clinicians at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) will be working closely with experts in medical devices at Nottingham Trent University to develop a new type of chest drain valve, which should improve safety for NHS patients. It is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).
Chest drains are tubes inserted into patients’ chest cavities to help them breath by draining away fluids such as water, blood and pus. They are used with people following trauma, surgery or to relieve the symptoms of infection.
However, it is thought that around seven per cent of chest drains become trapped or dislodged, either partially or entirely – potentially with very serious consequences for patients.
Dr Martin Beed, Consultant in intensive care and anaesthesia at NUH and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham, is leading the research project into a new type of “breakaway” chest drain valve with Professor Philip Breedon, Professor of Smart Technologies at Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU’s) School of Science and Technology.
“When chest drains become dislodged, inserting another is a major procedure; it is uncomfortable, painful and time-consuming for our patients. Although we started this project before COVID-19, the pandemic brought home how useful our new innovation might be. “
In intensive care, clinicians needed to ventilate patients with COVID-19. But in some cases, due the damage to their lungs, delivering treatment meant that healthcare professionals had to turn patients and nurse them face down in the bed.
Dr Beed added: “Doing this with a patient who is connected to medical tubes in their chest is a difficult procedure, with a risk of the tubes becoming dislodged. So our aim is to either disconnect a tube safely prior to turning or moving the patient – or, if the line attached to the chest drain came under tension and accidentally became disconnected - our device would break away at a fixed point of tension. This would leave the patient with a safe, one-way valve.
“This would mean air – or fluids – could exit the patient but not re-enter their body. Our intention is to develop a device that will improve patient safety, as chest drains are commonly used in thoracic surgery, intensive care, respiratory medicine, and in A&E after trauma across the NHS.”
Professor Philip Breedon said: “I have had the pleasure of working with Dr Beed in relation to the design and development of the chest drain valve for several years now.
“This research and development project provides a great opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team on an innovative chest drain valve device that could have a significant and positive impact for patients, the NHS and the global chest drain market.
“The valve has been developed within the medical engineering design research group at NTU which works closely with a wide range of healthcare professionals, patient groups, and healthcare companies whose interests focus on medical engineering design.”
Professor Breedon added:
“We are experienced in delivering a wide range of clinical and surgical projects including producing design prototypes utilising the latest design and simulation software and 3D printing techniques. The group also works closely with the Medical Technologies Innovation Facility (MTIF) and the Health and Allied Professions Centre (HAP) at NTU.”
The breakaway chest drain valve could prove particularly useful for patients in some clinical scenarios. The device could help clinicians take a patient for a CT scan - for instance - by deliberately disconnecting them from the chest drain via the valve during the scan, then reconnecting them immediately afterwards.
When fully developed, using the new breakaway valve could also offer a safer way of moving critical care patients, for example, during transfer by ambulance.
Development of the breakaway chest drain valve in Nottingham will take around three years. The project is funded with a £620,000 grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) i4i Invention for Innovation programme Product Development Awards.
The prototype valve will undergo extensive testing and development at Nottingham Trent University’s medical device engineering labs before entering clinical trials with patients.
The product will be developed with input from medical device experts at the Centre for Healthcare Equipment & Technology Adoption (CHEATA), which is part of Clinical Engineering at NUH, and draw on expertise in human anatomy from academics at the University of Nottingham.