As difficult as the pandemic has been, the Enterprise and Growth Team here at the Innovation Agency have had our busiest year ever, working with nearly double the number of companies we worked with before COVID-19.
We could not have predicted this when the pandemic began and the lockdown was imposed; in fact, we feared for our health and life sciences businesses and how they would fare as they began to feel the impact of the pandemic.
Very early on, our efforts were thrown into helping the NHS secure personal protective equipment (PPE) from reliable sources and helping companies to pivot their capability to develop products urgently needed by the NHS, supporting them with new products and opening new markets.
For many patients, PPE is intimidating and adds to their anxiety. It also affects communication because of the mask hiding the mouth, especially for hard-of-hearing patients who need to lip-read.
This motivated three companies we worked with over the last year to refocus and develop PPE, but not just any PPE - they managed to design reusable and recyclable face masks which were see-through!
This was particularly welcomed by doctors and nurses caring for children who didn’t like big scary facemasks. These three fantastic companies were Surgical Pouch, Spheritech and Activecell.
Lockdown created opportunities for many businesses as social distancing requirements kept patients out of hospitals and surgeries. Lancashire company Pure AV won several contracts to supply remote video conferencing equipment, while companies with expertise in remote health monitoring devices such as Docobo and Rinicare became an essential part of the response by hospitals setting up ‘virtual wards’.
A virtual ward means patients can be safely discharged to care at home, supported by connected devices such as pulse oximeters and heart-rate monitors. The data from a patient’s device is sent to a control centre or hub, where the information is securely monitored remotely by a doctor or nurse.
Any changes in the data coming from a patient’s monitoring devices that could indicate the patient’s condition is deteriorating will be seen by the remote carers, and they can arrange for a change in the patient’s treatment or care – preventing them from getting worse and needing readmission. With virtual wards, a single clinician can safely monitor tens or even hundreds of patients, which has been vital during the pandemic, given the strain on the frontline workforce.
As hard as the pandemic has been for the NHS and for businesses, there will be opportunities for health and life sciences SMEs in the future, as so much of what we have learned during the pandemic – remote monitoring, virtual consultation, virtual wards and much more – will become a permanent part of how the NHS cares for us all, in addition to face-to-face appointments and care.
A video or virtual consultation can be more convenient for patients to access a healthcare appointment – imagine being able to see a hospital doctor without needing to travel to the hospital, fight to find a parking space and then wait in a crowded waiting room to see a doctor.
Companies that make technologies which enable remote care to be a permanent part of the service mix in the future will have significant opportunities as the NHS seeks to expand the use of these technologies – to provide better care for patients, and to support the resilience of frontline staff.
I’m really proud of the work we’ve done; I couldn’t have imagined 18 months ago that our health and life sciences innovators and clinical entrepreneurs could have fundamentally changed and improved the way in which the NHS provides care. But that is what we were able to help them to do, flexing our work to provide the right business support to the right innovators during one of the most challenging times in our history. I am very proud indeed.