NHS crying out for Biomechanical engineers

With the increasing reliance and complexity of the various technologies used in hospitals and the healthcare industries, a recent report by the Institution of
Mechanical Engineers' is calling for immediate action to prioritise the role of
engineers within the NHS, advocating the introduction a Chief Biomedical
Engineer in each and every NHS acute trust.

Growing the overall head-count and influence of engineers working within the NHS, would not only assist in decreasing the volume of incidents caused by faulty medical equipment, but also provide a much needed boost to the engineering sector as whole.

According to the MHRA ('Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency), in 2013 there were a reported 13,642 incidents related to faulty medical equipment, resulting in 309 deaths and 4,955 serious injuries.

The nature of these incidents often varies greatly, from faulty pacemakers to X-ray, CT or MRI scanners used in the diagnosis of patients. Defective or malfunctioning equipment and the subsequent unavailability of it, is the leading contributor to cancelled patient operations in the NHS.

As hospital technologies become increasingly more complex, there is also an increased risk of poorly calibrated or inaccurate medical equipment being used on patients. The implications of using faulty or badly calibrated equipment, even basic apparatus such as weighing scales, can be catastrophic.

Dr Patrick Finlay, Chairman of the IMechE's Biomedical Engineering Association,

"The UK 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 reliant on the work of biomedical engineers who are inadequately recognised and in short supply.

"It is only with engineers that properly informed choices on these issues can be made in the best interests of patients and taxpayers. 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."

Historically the UK has been one of the leading countries in the academic research of biomedical engineering disciplines, with a stellar pedigree of inventing and researching cutting-edge medical devices. Specifically in the areas of: medical imaging, robotics, regenerative medicine, orthopaedic
implants, cardiopulmonary engineering, physiological monitoring, m-health and e-health, assistive technology, rehabilitation and independent living.

The IMechE therefore made four key recommendations:

  • Every NHS acute trust should have a designated Chief Biomedical Engineer.

  • A single, dedicated funding programme for biomedical engineering research should be established in UK Research Councils. 

  • Industrial and taxation policy should promote long-term investment in biomedical engineering to encourage domestic development and manufacturing. 

  • International consensus should be pursued for global standards, a common device regulatory and approvals regime, and harmonisation of patent legislation in medical devices. Named UK leads should be agreed for these policy roles.

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