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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Is a lack of medical engineers putting lives at risk?

21 September, 2014
A report released by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests that the low priority given to NHS engineers is leading to problems caused by faulty medical equipment, cancelled operations and - inevitably - poor value for money for taxpayers.

In 2013, over 13,000 incidents were reported to the UK regulator relating to faulty medical equipment, which led to over 300 deaths and almost 5000 serious injuries.

The technology used in hospitals is becoming increasingly complex, and so the danger of improperly calibrated and validated equipment is also increasing. Even the miscalibration of basic equipment has huge implications - incorrectly calibrated weighing scales can lead to patient being given an incorrect dosage of medication.

Lead author Dr Patrick Finlay said: "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. 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."


Automation and robotics has vast potential in the medical industry and it is to be expected that our readership will progressively increase in this area over time. An interesting example is Surrey-based FreeHand 2010, which markets a robotic camera controller for minimally invasive surgery for laparoscopic, urological and cardiopulmonary procedures. Unfortunately, it is an exception, as an aversion to early-stage investment in “medtech” companies prevails generally in Europe. It contrasts with experience in the USA, where significant numbers of new medical robotic companies have raised generous capital amounts from private investors or by flotation on the Nasdaq market.


Biomedical engineering: advancing UK healthcare features key case studies from UK academia and industry in the areas of: regenerative medicine, medical imaging and robotics, cardiopulmonary engineering, orthopaedic implants, physiological monitoring, m-health and e-health, assistive technology, rehabilitation and independent living.


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 excellent 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, are also being hampered by a lack of international consensus on standards, practices and patents. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers therefore makes 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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