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Motorsport technology helps to keep COVID-19 clinicians safe

This article is more than four years old.
Clinician in PPE demonstrates the shielding box using a dummy

A new type of aerosol shield designed by motor racing engineers to improve the treatment of COVID-19 patients and safety of clinical staff has been approved for use at a leading NHS trust.

Staff at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust say the new 'Oxford Box' could mark a significant breakthrough in the treatment of COVID-19 patients at its four hospitals.

Designed to keep frontline staff safe during the intubation of patients, the innovative 'Oxford Box' has been developed by businesses in the Silverstone Technology Cluster (STC) network, including Cluster Ambassador Dr Cristiana Pace' Enovation Consultancy Ltd and motorsport engineering company and STC member One Group Engineering.

The Renault DP World Formula 1 Team, with its advanced understanding of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and the University of Oxford's Oxford Simulation, Teaching & Research (OxSTaR) centre have also played significant roles in the development of this innovation.

Weighing just 7kg, the Oxford Box's light, flat-pack construction enables the device to be swiftly re-allocated in an emergency, stored away easily and sterilised more effectively.

The device has been developed with environmental sustainability in mind, with studies showing that the Oxford Box can be manufactured in large numbers from recycled plastics, reducing cost and waste.

After extensive trials at OxSTaR and the training of key clinical staff, OUH approved the use of Oxford Box across its four hospitals: the John Radcliffe, Churchill and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford, and the Horton General Hospital in Banbury.

A prototype paediatric version of the device is currently being assessed.

Bianca Tingle, a Consultant Anaesthetist at OUH, has been involved in the development of the new device. She said: "We believe the Oxford Box is the best aerosol shield available. We predict it will be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is unique because it is completely collapsible, easy to stow away - space is a precious commodity in hospitals - and is much easier to clean than other similar devices being developed, which helps enormously with infection control. These were the key features we were looking for.

"It adds a vital layer of protection for clinical staff. Removal of PPE ('doffing') is the riskiest moment for us, but keeping aerosols inside the Oxford Box greatly reduces contamination of us and the surrounding area."

Cristiana Pace commented: "The STC network, and Silverstone Park, is a great source of expertise especially during the pandemic, when many of its members looked at ways to reconvert their businesses to help with challenges generated by COVID-19.

"The problem-solving skills and agility of our industry, combined with the clinical knowledge and expertise of Oxford University Hospitals, resulted in a cost-effective state-of-the-art solution, able to keep clinicians safe during their invaluable day-to-day work. One Group Engineering and Renault DP World F1 Team were both instrumental in achieving this result in such a short timeframe."

She added: "As well as looking at the ergonomics and conceptual design, we are planning on assessing and reducing the carbon footprints of this product, underlining our responsibility to transition to circular economy."

The STC has applied for government funding through Innovate UK.

One Group founder Ron Hartvelt said: "Most of our work has previously been automotive and motorsport, so it's been fantastic engaging with OUH and OxSTaR to develop the Oxford Box medical device.

"In terms of understanding the challenges, design innovation and prototype delivery I believe this project demonstrates just how powerful the motorsport approach can be. It's been an exciting and rewarding project and medical is certainly a sector that we would like to continue to apply our skills to."

Renault DP World F1 Team's Head of CFD, Paul Cusdin, said: "We modelled the speed, direction and air flow as we would in F1 and were thus able to advise the best placement, size and shape of the box to take its protection level to near 100 percent for the treating medic.

"The models were complex to establish, but by applying the principles we would do in developing a car, we were able to improve its protection and condense development from months to weeks.

"F1 is once again proving its capacity to apply its thinking, technology and processes in speeding up the help we can give to those in genuine need. I hope this will be yet another tool in the ongoing fight against COVID-19."