A & E doctor invents cleaning equipment to help beat hospital bugs

Paul Hercock

An accident and emergency doctor has used his frontline experience to create equipment to clean everyday medical devices, to help drive down rates of hospital associated infections.

Paul Hercock set up Mantra Medical, in Sheffield, to develop two products – one for cleaning blood pressure cuffs and the other for cleaning pulse oximeters, devices that are pegged to a patient’s finger to measure pulse rate and oxygen saturations.

The innovative bedside equipment would allow nurses to clean the medical devices within seconds, helping to control potential infection spread between patients.

The blood pressure cuff cleaner works by using UV light, while the pulse oximeter cleaner uses a replaceable cartridge with elements providing a mixture of chemical and mechanical cleaning.

The company’s growth is being supported by Creative Sheffield – a partner in the South Yorkshire Sector Growth Enhancement Programme (SYSGEP). Creative Sheffield is Sheffield City Council’s economic development function, which is committed to boosting business growth in the city. SYSGEP is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Yorkshire and The Humber ERDF Programme (2007-13).

As well as helping Mantra Medical access funding and investment opportunities, Creative Sheffield has put the company in touch with Design Futures, Sheffield Hallam University’s design consultancy group, for prototype development.

The HCAI Research Network estimates that around one in 10 patients pick up an infection, such as MRSA, C. Difficile and Norovirus, during their stay in a UK hospital, with an estimated 5,000 patients dying each year as a direct result. Dealing with infections costs the NHS £1 billion a year. The Network cites contaminated medical devices as a common cause.

Paul said most hospitals rely on manual cleaning of blood pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters, done sporadically.

He commented:

“Many people think about how they would do things better when they’re at work. I was concerned that while there is a campaign around clean hands, things used every day should be clean as well. We can do more to reduce the spread of infections to the benefit of patients and the NHS.

“The main problem is that cleaning is something extra to do for staff who are already very busy, so the key to the solution was creating a system where people are only expected to do what they already do.

“The devices are designed to go on a trolley and, with the pulse oximeters for example, it’s just a case of nurses dropping them into the cleaner rather than a basket.”

Paul came up with the idea for his business in 2009 while working as a specialist registrar in A & E at hospitals in the region. He now divides his time between his role as managing director of Mantra and work as a locum at Rotherham Hospital.

Joining Paul on the board at Mantra are his father Tony Hercock and former Master Cutler Neil MacDonald, whose credentials include being non-executive directors in NHS trusts, along with design expert Richard Jones.

The company will seek to license the manufacture of its products after they have been fully developed, trialled and tested. There has already been interest in the equipment from NHS trusts in the region and beyond and it is hoped they can be brought to market within two years. Paul is also developing the next generation of products, including a cleaner for stethoscope diaphragms and a wound closure device.

Paul added:

“I’m coming at this from the perspective of a physician who wants to see things done right. If what I’ve developed becomes an adopted standard, then I will feel great sense of a job well done.”

With no prior knowledge of running a business, Paul said developing his technically-complex products has been challenging and credits Creative Sheffield with helping him take some major steps forward.

Its team has also helped Mantra tap into talent at the Design, Prototyping and Testing Centre at University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

In addition, Creative Sheffield has assisted with identifying a new workspace at The Electric Works, Sheffield Digital Campus, funding opportunities and introductions to potential investors.

Paul said:

“If you don’t know something exists, then you can’t find out about it and that’s where Creative Sheffield has really come in. I know that the information I receive from them will be significant.”

Sheffield is home to established clusters of world-class digital and healthcare technology industries.

Creative Sheffield’s sector growth manager for healthcare technologies, Philippa Hedley-Takhar, said:

“We are able to offer companies like Mantra Medical support in a number of key areas, including introducing them to appropriate partners and networks relevant to their business needs.

“It’s great to see exciting collaborative opportunities emerge which will help to take Paul’s innovative ideas to market.”

Paul Hercock
Paul Hercock

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