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The Impact of COVID-19: A Case Study from 3D LifePrints

3D LifePrints was founded on humanitarian principles. From initial work providing 3D printed limb prosthetics to amputees in Kenya, activity progressed to medical 3D printing services for key UK hospitals.

We now have embedded 3D printing facilities within Alder Hey Hospital, Royal Liverpool Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, with more hubs in development this year.

Using these hubs, we supply a wide range of 3D printed medical devices, products, and services to medical organisations, including the NHS, private hospitals, research institutions and universities, medical device manufacturers and medical training centres.

Projected growth, like many businesses within the HealthTech industry, looked healthy. Until the advent of coronavirus threw a major obstacle in our path.

COVID Cancellations

As part of the NHS response to the pandemic, elective surgeries across the country were cancelled. All but essential, emergency procedures were no longer considered the main priority.

Resources needed to be redirected towards the fight against COVID-19 as estimates of the number of serious infections rose, and frontline staff themselves were stretched thin, as their own became ill or were suspected to be infected.

Likewise, it made strategic sense to lower the amount of patients being admitted to potential hot zones, which might only add to infection levels and make the situation all the more critical.

For 3D LifePrints, this halt on procedures was a big blow to take. Complex electives are a major source of revenue for the company. With no way to know when ordinary surgical activities would resume, there was the risk of the positive outlook turning bleak.

However, our positioning at points of care, crucial to our business model, proved to be an advantage in weathering the new environment created by COVID-19.     

Creating the Distancer

Iain Hennessey, consultant surgeon and Clinical Director for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital’s Innovation Hub, understood the extreme dangers of COVID-19 within a hospital. He knew how contagious it was. He knew it could last on surfaces for up to 72 hours. He knew that door handles and release buttons in particular would be hotspots for potentially contaminated hand traffic.

Knowing all this, he turned to 3D LifePrints for a fast solution to what could be a major problem. Our biomedical engineer, David Collins, worked alongside Alder Hey to create the Distancer.

A handheld door opener that also held staff ID keycards. Hooked on a retractable keychain, staff began using them around the buildings to reduce their contact with fomites that might be contaminated by COVID-19.

Interest grew fast thanks to social media and we soon realised the Distancer could be useful to all kinds of vital organisations and businesses around the world as people were looking to do all they could to minimise contamination risk for themselves, their employees and their loved ones.

Coupled with handwashing and other PPE, such as masks, it was an extra level of protection for those needing to get back to work. NHS Trusts and companies alike began purchasing for their staff.

Now, as the country begins to bring the disease under control, we are focusing once more on turning our core value towards the enormous impending pressure the NHS is facing in light of its pause on treatments.

Tackling the surgical backlog

A recent study by the NHS Confederation predicted the number of people waiting for NHS treatment to hit 10 Million by the end of the year. The COVID-19 pause setting up huge strain for Trusts for years to come. Even without a second spike, there is set to be a two year wait for elective surgery.

3D LifePrints recognised that a considerable percentage of the backlog cases would already be urgent, complex or both. And that many would soon turn that way because of the continued delay.

Medical 3D printing’s real value shines in these cases and 3D LifePrints will be working with its partner Trusts in the coming months to assist with their resource pressures. This will include:

  • Assisting oncology surgical planning with patient specific models to help tackle tumours safely before they become inoperable
  • Working with orthopaedic surgeons to create surgical guides to ensure greater accuracy and lower patient risk / time in theatre as they deal with high volumes of procedures
  • Providing patient specific cardiology models to practice high risk procedures before theatre
  • Providing custom implants for craniomaxillofacial patients that reduce the potential need for revision surgery that could add to the backlog.

…and more. All of this is designed to support Trusts alongside their traditional and innovative resourcing measures, post-pandemic.

Being on-site meant an agile, tailored response to the crisis was possible. Going forward, it means already being there to help Trusts deliver best treatment for patients as staff face the strains of the aftermath.

Paul Fotheringham, Founder & CTO, 3D LifePrints