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A chief biomedical engineer in each NHS Trust could save £700m

25 February 2016

The government could find savings of up to £700m by appointing a chief biomedical engineer in each NHS Trust, according to a new report from the IMechE.

This measure would encourage best practice in procurement, maintenance and use of medical equipment, according to the campaign document: Healthcare: Engineering Solutions for the NHS, which the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has launched to raise awareness of the work that engineers are doing in the healthcare sector.

“With the government’s expectation to find £22bn worth of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020, it needs to find new solutions that will reduce costs but provide the services we all expect," says Dr Helen Meese, head of healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. “A chief biomedical engineer in each acute NHS Trust would be able to encourage best practice and ensure equipment is procured efficiently across the organisation, helping to maximise patient safety and clinical efficacy.

“Technology is leading to huge advances in healthcare, but this technology is dependent on the work of biomedical engineers who are inadequately recognised and in short supply in most hospitals.

“It is vital that engineers are at the heart of the design, procurement, use and maintenance of high value equipment. It is only with engineers working alongside clinicians and nursing staff that properly informed choices on these issues can be made in the best interests of patients and taxpayers.

“The cost of introducing a chief biomedical engineer in each NHS Trust would be negligible compared to the significant benefits to patients, services and the NHS as a whole.
“In an ever more technical environment we need high-level engineers to ensure the NHS is able to help improve safe independent living, while improving the NHS for the long term.”

The Healthcare: Engineering Solutions for the NHS campaign document lists six key benefits to having a chief biomedical engineer in every NHS Trust:

Patient safety – Overseeing the quality of clinical care by analysing and reporting on incidents involving medical devices, thereby helping to improve patient safety.
Value for money – The National Audit Office states that value for money in the planning, procurement and use of high-value equipment, such as MRI scanners or linear accelerator machines, is not being met across all Trusts due to a lack of comparable information about performance and cost of machine use.
Equipment management – The National Audit Office states that there is a lack the information and benchmarking data required by Trusts to secure cost-efficient procurement and sustainable maintenance of key elements in modern diagnosis and treatment.
Calibration and validation of equipment – Currently there is a lack of consistent responsibility for this function. A recent Medical Device Equipment Alert relating to dangers of mis-calibrated scales was addressed to Risk Managers, H&S Officers, Estates Managers, Nurse Directors and Clinical Directors. It is unlikely that many, if any, of those people would have the training or equipment to calibrate even a simple set of scales. Mis-calibrations of more complex items, such as medical scanners, can result in life-threatening complications.
Research, development and translation – As designers and assessors of equipment, biomedical engineers have an invaluable role working with clinicians to produce customised medical devices for individual patients. They contribute to the design, monitoring and analysis of clinical trials of new equipment, and support the translation of new products into clinical practice.
Long-term technology strategy – Biomedical engineers are able to deliver a sustainable and well-defined plan to maximise patient safety, clinical safety and overall value from medical technology through understanding the needs.

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