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Keele University Professor Calls on Engineers to Tackle Pandemic Healthcare Issues with NHS Initiative

We interviewed Professor Peter Ogrodnik to discuss COVID-19, some of the current challenges faced by healthcare workers, his global Engineers for the NHS Initiative, and how you can help.

As of April 6, COVID-19 has infected over 1.4 million people, taking the lives of approximately 80,000 people. Described by Bill Gates as "the once-in-a-century pathogen we've been worried about," the effects of the coronavirus are unprecedented, impacting almost every facet of our modern society. There is a good chance that you are reading this article at home while socially distancing yourself. Aside from the direct threat to your health, COVID-19 has disrupted businesses and governments, in ways we have yet to comprehend fully. Nevertheless, during these trying times, there is a silver lining.  

At the moment, 308,617 people have recovered from the virus due in part, mainly to the heroes on the front lines combating the pandemic, our medical professionals. The massive weight of COVID-19 has been shouldered by medical workers and caregivers around the world, even amid some of the unexpected challenges. 

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Some of the world's most well-developed healthcare systems have struggled with the issues brought on by COVID-19. Shortages in supplies, staff, and even facilities have put a tremendous strain on healthcare workers, further highlighting the invaluable role they have in our society. "Their tireless work and self-sacrifice show the best of humanity," said Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes in an article for the United Nations.

As a way to alleviate some of the systematic strains created by the coronavirus, Professor Peter Ogrodnik, a biomedical engineer from Keele University in the United Kingdom, is leading a project that is calling engineers to join them to help tackle some of the most significant issues affecting the NHS and care providers. It is called the Engineers for the NHS InitiativeThink of it like the Avengers Initiative but for engineers, designers, and everyone in between.

A global project led by medical experts 

Peter Ogrodnik's years of experience in the realms of engineering and his leading research has highlighted how modern technology can be used to improve the lives of healthcare professionals as well as patients. Ogrodnik has spent his career as both a mechanical engineer and as a biomedical engineer. During his undergraduate and postgraduate education, the professor studied mechanical engineering, focusing on high speed rotating machines, which includes things like power stations and jet aircraft engines. However, it was around the end of the 1980s when the professor started working with surgeons in local hospitals around the UK in orthopedics. 

Since the change of pace, a majority of his research has centered around "developing medical devices for orthopedics with the understanding that the work we do can be applied to other areas of medicine." Right now, one of the most exciting areas of interest for the biomedical engineer is the monitoring of patients using high-integrity data. Driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, this form of patient monitoring could go on "revolutionize" to various areas of the medical world, drastically reducing the number of outpatients in hospitals. Technology like this would be extremely beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Ogrodnik, the Engineers for the NHS Initiative, first and foremost, is an opportunity to help healthcare workers and care providers currently battling COVID-19. However, it is also an opportunity to help accelerate technological growth in the medical field. 

"Merely being able to monitor people's temperatures at home who are at risk of having the COVID-19 could be hugely beneficial, only calling them into the hospital when their temperatures exceed a certain threshold. This in itself could help reduce the strain put on healthcare during a pandemic, dramatically reducing the number of beds occupied", says Ogrodnik. 

"We are not too far off from being able to monitor people's basic health from home, and with tools like artificial intelligence, we could eventually evolve into making predictions about people's health. Smart healthcare is something I would like to see come out of this."

Engineers for the NHS Initiative is an opportunity to tackle some of the less apparent challenges caused by COVID-19

COVID-19 has put tremendous pressure on healthcare workers and hospitals around the world. However, both companies and creative civilians have answered the call to help their local healthcare workers providing things like 3D printed masks or ventilators, hand sanitizer, or even food delivery services to those who are vulnerable to the virus. 

However, the "obvious" issues are just the tip of the iceberg. "Besides the distinct problems, what else needs to be done to help? This question has been the main driver for the creation of Engineers for the NHS Initiative," says the Keele University Professor. "Aside from things like the shortages of ventilators and more obvious problems, we are not really sure of all the other potential pressures that COVID-19 will put on healthcare workers."

This is where the Engineers for the NHS Initiative steps in. Ogrodnik wants the initiative to take on the full spectrum of challenges that are caused by COVID-19 and the social distancing measures. For example, there are people out there who might struggle to pick up their delivery downstairs because their walker or wheelchair limits their mobility. Or, there might be a person out there who is struggling to open a food item because they have MS. Engineers for the NHS Initiative, would come in and help design products that help these people.   

The Engineers for the NHS Initiative is not limited to specific challenges

Though Professor Peter Ogrodnik is excited to see how technology could be used to improve the treatment and monitoring of patients, the Engineers for the NHS is not focused on one specific area or challenge. Starting just a couple of days ago, the project enabled volunteering engineers, designers, and institutions to directly tackle any current problem faced by those dealing with COVID-19. In short, the idea for the project is to create a website where people and organizations can post precisely what they need or the challenges they are experiencing. 

The initiative would then step in and take on the challenge with their team. Starting just this past Monday, the NHS, the Department of Health in the U.K, as well as 100 engineers, are already involved in the project. And, you can get involved too

Ogrodnik wants this to be a global call-to-action stating, "I do not want it just to be based in the U.K. Everyone is in the same boat. At the end of the day, it's not necessarily Engineers for NHS but instead engineers for health."

The initiative is not just looking for engineers

"My whole ethos is that a good product is something that has been designed by a team that understands what it takes to get a product from concept down to mass production," says Ogrodnik. "The best way to do that is to have all of the team working on the project from day one. We are looking for people with a full range of engineering skills and expertise." 

The current problems created by the coronavirus require a multidisciplinary touch. And as stressed by Ogrodnik, they need a healthy mix of different people and skillsets to take on the challenges at hand effectively. Whether you are a product designer, 3D printing expert, biomechanical engineer, logistical manager, or project manager, the Engineers for the NHS Initiative need your help.  

COVID-19 could be a wake-up call for countries around the world. 

COVID-19 is an opportunity to rethink the healthcare system in various countries across the globe. A sentiment echoed by many thought leaders and other medical professionals, many places around the world were not ready for a pandemic, let alone had a logistical plan set up in an emergency of this magnitude. Ogrodnik also believes that the disappearing manufacturing sectors in "western" countries could be the cause of their inability to respond to the problem appropriately. "In the United Kingdom, they have let essential manufacturing skills slip away by adopting this idea that we can "buy it in. Well, that is totally fine when things are working; however, when COVID-19 took over, it quickly demonstrated that relying on buying things overseas is not always the best solution, says the biomedical engineer". 

Companies should do their best to help tackle any manufacturing challenges

During World War II, companies would be "drafted-in" to help produce the needed supplies and weaponry for the war effort. The government would call on these companies to manufacture everything from tanks to extra phones. Ogrodnik believes that both the government and companies should play a similar role during a pandemic stating that "...Yes, medical devices are a little more complicated, but the same basic manufacturing processes lay within those companies".

Even more so, designers and engineers can be commissioned by companies to take on any manufacturing bottlenecks currently caused by demands in medical supplies and products. 

Hopefully, the world will have a new appreciation for medical professionals

Medical professionals and caregivers have put their lives on hold, risking their lives to protect people battling COVID-19 even amid some of the current limitations in hospitals; working days on end. Alongside Ogrodnik, we also hope medical professionals receive the appreciation that they deserve for their sacrifices and value to humanity.  

We want to thank Professor Peter Ogrodnik for sitting down with us and discussing Engineers for the NHS Initiative. As mentioned before, the group is looking for people from various industries and not just engineering. If you are interested in joining or contributing to the initiative, you can sign up at Engineers for the NHS Initiative. They need your help. Be safe.

Interesting Engineering is joining the fight against COVID-19

Keele University Professor Calls on Engineers to Tackle Pandemic Healthcare Issues with NHS Initiative
Source: Interesting Engineering

Our team here at Interesting Engineering has been hard at work, creating a new feature on our website to tackle the unprecedented challenges created by COVID-19. This new project was developed to help facilitate the matchmaking and global network of engineering initiatives against COVID-19 - from companies, organizations, and individuals. There are immediate problems out there that need the minds of talented engineers who read our digital publication. If you want to help, know someone who would be willing to help, or know of a project, please visit the new webpage here.

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