Generic image of a medical technician adjusting an item of medical equipment.

Report calls for chief engineers for hospitals' tech

A report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has called for hospital trusts to take more seriously the challenges of keeping increasingly-complex equipment in order, to avoid cancelled operations and avoidable patient death and injuries.

The report’s authors argue that every trust should appoint a chief biomedical engineer to co-ordinate and plan how trusts use technology.

“It’s vital that engineers are involved in the procurement, use and maintenance of biomedical equipment,” said Helen Meese, head of engineering in society at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). “In order to reap the full benefits that technology can offer, the people who design, make and maintain these pieces of equipment need to be heard.”

Speaking at the report's launch, Meese referenced a recent report by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) report that claims more than 300 deaths in 2013 could be attributed to faulty equipment. Other situations have involved simple miscalibration of weighing scales, leading to the wrong calculations for treatment dosages, according to one of the report’s authors, Patrick Finlay, chairman of the IMechE biomedical engineering section and managing director of medical robotics firm MediMaton.

“That is why one of our key suggestions is that there should be a recognised chief engineer, whose task is to make sure that the right technology is available and properly calibrated so that every surgeon has at their disposal the right equipment,” Finlay explained. “This issue has come of age.”

The lack of a single co-ordinating engineer has led to hospitals using a variety of outsourcing deals to maintain equipment, added report co-author Professor Anthony Bull of Imperial College London. “The responsibility is outsourced in many cases to those who manufacture it.”

A ‘chief biomedical engineer’ would be expected to keep abreast of many different technologies in use within a hospital, to be able to build maintenance policies, and held responsible for any equipment-related problems, Bull said. As well as recommending a greater role for engineers within existing hospital trusts, the report calls for changes to the tax regime and international patent legislation to make it easier for biomedical startups to develop technologies and gain access to a global market.

More information:
Institution of Mechanical Engineers

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