Warrington Hospital’s Covid-19 ‘Black Box’ scoops prestigious national innovation award

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The team of clinicians that transformed a simple medical device into a potential life-saving therapy for some of the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients has won a prestigious national innovation award in the annual London Business School (LBS) Innovation Awards.

The Warrington Hospital team were named as the inaugural winners of the new ‘Innovating in Adversity’ category at the LBS Awards ceremony which was held virtually this afternoon.

WG Black boxes -ICU A7 Cardio Respiratory - joint working.jpgThe mixed team of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals working across Intensive Care, high care Respiratory ward and the Cardiorespiratory team were recognised for the remarkable impact of their innovation. The simple modified CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device brought almost instant relief to patients with extreme breathing difficulties admitted with the debilitating effects of COVID-19.

CPAP is a well-established therapy for conditions causing significant breathing problems and low oxygen levels and is used widely in the community to increase airway pressure in patients with chronic sleep apnoea.  Aware of the expected national shortage of ventilators in the early phase of the pandemic, the team wanted to find a way to assess the response to other forms of treatment before mechanical ventilation was considered. They decided to try to modify the community CPAP devices for high-flow oxygen use. They made a simple change to the mask and added a filter which also allowed oxygen to be supplied via the mask and then tested the devices on themselves, using anaesthetic gas analysis to confirm the levels of oxygen being delivered.

Patient Donna Wall with the CPAP machine pic courtesy of Sky News.jpgTesting on patients in a controlled environment followed and the team were delighted when most patients found their breathing easing and oxygen levels rising.  Patients that did not adequately oxygenate after a few hours on the CPAP ‘Black Box’ were escalated to intensive care for ventilation.
Particular mention should go to Mithun Murthy, respiratory consultant; Saagar Patel, acute medicine and respiratory consultant and Mark Forrest (critical care consultant) and Jo Thomas, lead physiotherapist for respiratory and critical care who were key in completing this work stream within supportive multidisciplinary respiratory, cardiorespiratory and critical care teams. 

This significant development was the focus of a Sky News documentary during the first wave of the pandemic and was also named winner of a London Business School People’s Choice Award, following a public vote earlier this year. 

Alex Crowe.jpgDr Alex Crowe, Medical Director for WHH said: “It is difficult to think of an occasion when an award was more well-deserved than this one.  This team, when under intense and unprecedented pressures, were able to think creatively and worked together as respiratory and critical care teams to use their combined clinical expertise and the existing resources available to them.

“Receiving such a prestigious national award, in a field of some of the nation’s most accomplished innovators, means that everyone can feel justifiably proud and it is a welcome boost many months into this pandemic.

“There is no doubt that whilst COVID-19 infection remains a serious threat for many -  leading to serious and life-threatening complications for some - these devices continue to improve outcomes for many patients who would otherwise require much higher risk ventilation procedures.”


London Business School Innovation Award Judge, Charlie Dawson added:
“The teeth of the COVID-19 crisis in a regional hospital on its way to being overwhelmed... definitely adversity. The response was practical, smart, fast and described modestly as 'just doing our job'. The results were way beyond such understatement.”