31 August 2021

Blog by Gemma Byrne

Neville Clokey of Lancastle with the Innovation Agency's Gemma Byrne

As a trained audiologist, I’m used to helping people communicate.

It is a brilliant skill to have and one I have called on frequently as part of my work as a Programme Manager with the Innovation Agency.

My role is to help encourage the spread and adoption of innovations in Lancashire and south Cumbria. We do this by supporting the creation of the kind of relationships that help connect industry and commercial partners with the NHS. The aim: to match clinical priorities with innovative solutions that will drive efficiencies and improve patient care. We’re the ‘critical friend’ facilitating those connections that can make a real difference.

And then Covid-19 came.

I was seconded into the role of Serology Lead in the Covid Operational Supplies Team which was brought together under Department of Health and NHS England. My role was to lead on the antibody testing workstream and support the deployment of rapid testing across the NHS. I ensured NHS labs had the supplies and resources they needed to increase capacity as well as introduce point of care innovations at a rapid pace and scale. It was a great experience to be part of this team and to support our pathology colleagues who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.  

The Innovation Agency established a Covid response hub. This was an extension to our normal service and worked well in acting as a quick reaction to calls for help at the start of the pandemic from our NHS colleagues in the North West Coast. It also allowed us to triage offers of help from industry who were keen to get involved in the early days. We could identify, as innovations came in, who would be best suited to help.

One of those who contacted us was Stuart Hosking-Durn, Head of Resilience and Patient Flow from the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. Working alongside engineers from BAE Systems’ Submarines business and local company Lancastle, his NHS colleagues developed pioneering new Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff on COVID-19 wards.

Developed to replace current PPE hoods, which were created for an industrial rather than a clinical environment, the Morecambe Bay Hood is less expensive, is fully cleanable, reusable and offers greater protection and comfort to healthcare workers as the hood is suitable for all face shapes and sizes.

The request made to us was for assistance to ensure the hood gained the accreditation it needed quickly so it could be used by clinical staff as soon as possible.

During the pandemic regulations changed quite rapidly but as I was brought into the mix early I was able to help navigate the processes and find out who was best placed to advise when it came to gaining approval from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other agencies.

My background is in product and product development for medical devices so I was able to guide the team to the right people to speak to in the regulatory areas.

The fact the hood was designed, refined and implemented in just 11 months is remarkable. To see such collaboration take place was inspiring and will make a real difference on the wards.

The Morecambe Bay Hood is a great example of what can be achieved and I was only too pleased to play a part.

Read the full story of how the Morecambe Bay Hood was developed, here.

Gemma Byrne, Senior Programme Manager, @GemmaLByrne

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