Althea delivers full Radiology department replacement at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

In 2017, a 10-year partnership managed equipment service (MES) deal was signed between Althea and Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Musgrove Park Hospital. Two years in, Musgrove Park has seen a massive overhaul and change in its Radiology Service.

The department has had a total redesign to help improve its clinical services, making an improvement to staff workflow and patient experience. David Rolfe, CEO of Althea UK and Ireland, talks about how the partnership was benefiting patients and clinicians.

“Althea assigned a dedicated Service Manager to work with the Hospital team to provide the best possible customer experience,” explains David.

“Understanding on the ground requirements and working closely with clinical staff is key. Existing equipment is immediately covered by Althea’s Customer Care Centre (CCC), based at our Head Office in Theale, providing 24/7 specialist call handlers to manage any breakdowns that occur. Our specialist Technology team then came in to manage the equipment replacements.”

An equipment replacement plan was agreed with the Trust to manage which assets are replaced and when, allowing the department to keep running an efficient clinical service, with minimal disruption. A lot of the Musgrove Park equipment was nearing obsolescence or beyond recommended service life, which created concerns surrounding equipment performance and reliability.

Althea’s clinical-choice contract gives the overall decision in equipment selection to the clinical team, supported by vendor-independent information, analysis and advice from Althea’s Technologists. As one of the largest buyers of medical equipment in the UK & Ireland, Althea has longstanding relationships with all major and emerging manufacturers, ensuring the company is able to provide unbiased advice and consultancy. Its vendor-independence, scale and expertise allow hospitals to select best-of-breed technologies from a variety of manufacturers whilst maintaining the commercial and logistic benefits of having one supplier.

The first set of equipment to be replaced at the hospital was x-ray. This modality includes x-ray systems based in the main department, used with a large range of patients, from those within the hospital (inpatients), to outpatient appointments and GP walk-ins. The aging x-ray rooms were replaced with state-of-the-art Samsung GC85 x-ray systems. These machines are top of the range systems, with full automation and image stitching. The automation of the machines will improve patient through-put and also improve the manual handling demands on the Radiographers, which should have a positive effect on staff wellbeing.

Mobile x-ray systems were also replaced. These machines move around the hospital and go up to the wards to x-ray patients. Two Samsung GM85 systems were chosen by the Trust for their slim, ergonomic and lightweight nature. The GM85s, won the 2017 Design Award for its compact design and optimised workflow and allows easy access around tight spaces. Another mobile unit for the Special Baby Care Unit was also purchased. This was a Fuji Nano system. This machine is ideal for the Neonatal Unit, as it’s a smaller compact unit. It is small enough to move around the incubators within the Special Baby Care Unit.

Further equipment replacements also include, two mobile intensifier units. These machines were replaced with Philips Healthcare BV Pulsera’s. These machines are used in theatres, to give full diagnosis imaging when the surgeons are operating. One of the systems has extra capability, allowing the team to use the machine in a vascular setting. The high power of these units allows better visualisation for the surgeons, especially in spinal cases.

The Ultrasound Department has also seen a change. An extra ultrasound unit – Philips Affiniti 70 was added to the portfolio of equipment. This was to help with the increase in service demand for interventional procedures. A Fujifilm Sonosite X-Porte machine was also installed to enable more bedside procedures to be carried out, rather than patients having to be moved around the department. The General Imaging Department saw an installation of a GE Logiq E9 and the Maternity Department a Canon Aplio i600 system, which features superb microvascular imaging.

“The most exciting development and change is the re-design of the whole Imaging Department including the move of the DEXA department into an old un-used room,” said David.

“Althea’s design services are fully aligned with ISAS’s patient-focussed assessment and accreditation programme and aim to improve patient experience and provide a staff working environment conducive to maximising clinical time.”

The new DEXA machine – a GE Lunar iDXA bone densitometer – is an advanced system which offers high clarity, precision and image resolution on the density of bones. The move of this machine into a different room, made available a space to create an additional CT scanner suite.

It also enabled the Trust to redesign and add additional equipment to their portfolio including the installation of a new MRI Scanner and Injector. The new MRI scanner, which was charity-funded, was given the Royal seal of approval by Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex. The scanner, a Siemens 1.5T Magnetom Aera was officially opened by the Countess on 24 September 2019. The Trust and the charity worked tirelessly to raise the money for this system.

“Althea were able to work with the clinical teams to source the right equipment to suit them and their patients – it wasn’t a case of purchase the cheapest equipment, instead we ensured that we sourced the most appropriate equipment for the hospital and it’s patients,” said David. “The Siemens Aera fitted that category, and we were pleased to have procured this scanner for the charity, ensuring it was money well spent for the department”.

Both Althea and the Trust are grateful for the money raised and funded through a £1 million fundraising campaign led by the hospital’s official charity Love Musgrove. Having a third MRI scanner means clinicians at Musgrove Park can perform more of the most complex scans than ever before. This is particularly important as the hospital has seen an annual ten percent increase in patients who need an MRI. The scanner also helps to provide diagnosis for patients who may have breast cancer, neurological conditions, cardiac problems, tumours, spinal injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders.

But the replacements haven’t stopped there. In the coming months, the existing CT scanner will be updated. The scanner chosen is a GE Revolution EVO scanner, which replaces an old GE VCT. The new technology and software can give the department faster scan times, greater patient throughput and a happier clinical team.

David commented about the transformation at Musgrove Park: “We are proud to offer a vendor-neutral managed service which has been tailored to meet the hospital’s specific needs. This includes around-the-clock maintenance as well as long-term asset replacement. It is the most cost-effective way to ensure patients and clinicians have access to the latest diagnostic technology in first-class, patient-focussed facilities.Althea guarantees an informed, vendor-neutral, clinical choice of both equipment and clinical consumables.”

Adam Turner, Radiology’s Operational Manager at the Trust, explains that there has been a phased approach to the development of the department.

“Working with Althea and moving different teams around into new purpose-built facilities has allowed us to create a modern, bespoke, four-room Ultrasound Department, as well as an additional third MRI suite and six new Radiologist reporting bays. In addition to this, the new build has created both ‘in and outpatient’ waiting facilities and additional office space.”

“The installation of a second Siemens Aera MRI scanner was greatly required and will now remove a bottleneck in our waiting lists for MRI patients.”

But it’s not just new installations that Althea co-ordinate. Althea is responsible for the provision of high quality maintenance for all Radiology assets at the hospital, including the existing equipment from before the MES. Should any equipment faults occur, the Trust calls Althea’s Customer Care Centre regardless of the equipment manufacturer. The CCC provides a swift response and keeps the Trust updated with progress. This can be via the Althea team of expert engineers or selected partners minimising the disruption to clinical practice and maximising equipment uptime. Any issues are also highlighted to the Althea Service Manager for speedy resolution as required. Althea also offer an integrated consumables management service that delivers both cash-releasing savings and significant operational efficiencies for the Radiology, Procurement and Finance teams.

Adam concluded: “It has been an extremely exciting time for us at Taunton. With a larger demand on our imaging services, it is reassuring that our existing equipment has all been refreshed as it means we can continue to keep up with new Radiological techniques. None of this would have been possible without Althea and their managed service.”

Celebrating women in engineering

In honour of International Women’s Day, which took place on Sunday 8th March, we want to take the time to celebrate the contributions that women in engineering make at Althea – and highlight why it’s still important to promote engineering as a career path for all.

The number of women in engineering roles has nearly doubled in the last decade – from just over 25,000 to just over 50,000. New government data shows that there are now one million women in STEM roles in the UK – an increase of over 350,000 in the last ten years. While this is great, there is still more to be done, as overall the proportion of women in tech roles remains at 16%, the same figure it has sat at for the last ten years. The UK still lags far behind the rest of Europe in its efforts to employ female engineers.

Just over 10%

Women now account for just over 10% of engineering professionals in the UK. It’s been great to see how this figure has progressed over the years. But Britain still has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe – Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%. For a country that prides itself on its diversity – and opportunity – this number is still shockingly low.

The benefits of a diverse workforce cannot be underestimated. Not only does it create a richer pool of talent, but it also allows companies to be more productive. Research shows that companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse. It’s easy to grasp at statistics, but the inherent value of diversity is self-evident in its contributions to creativity and innovative thinking, and its relations to progress. Simply put, engineering is dedicated to real-word problem solving – rooted in imaginative, forward-thinking concepts, simple or complex; the exchange of experience and ideas, and how this can be applied to enhance the world around us. How can this be achieved without inclusion and diversity of thought? Different people bring different ideas, but diversity – in whatever form – enriches its capabilities.

Inspiring people from a younger age

As a STEM ambassador, I often go into schools, colleges and other similar locations to help with school projects or provide advice on career days. One thing I have seen is that junior school children don’t have misconceptions regarding science and engineering. As children progress to high school age, they begin to formulate an image of the engineering profession from the outside world – from what they see on TV, in the media, from parents – which almost always ends up solidifying their perception of engineering as something that is ‘not for girls’.

It’s important to challenge stereotypes so that the window of opportunity remains open to everyone, regardless of their gender or age. To break down this image, it is important that they have access to positive role models and see more of women in engineering at work.

What are we doing at Althea?

Althea prides itself on breaking down technological barriers, and enhancing patient care, meaning we rely on a large, dynamic pool of talent. This includes the expertise and collaborative efforts of over 3,000 engineers, technicians, administrators, apprentices, and customer service specialists, all across the globe. We like to support our staff in their professional development, and alongside great training opportunities we also offer a great apprenticeship programme to help young people fire up their career – and explore those they may not have been familiar with before.

Here at Althea we want to shed light on our own amazing women in engineering. First stop is Carla Wood.

Before joining Althea, Carla served 15 years in the NHS starting at The Kent and Canterbury Hospital on placement where she studied her BEng in Electronics with Medical Electronics. She has had many roles within the NHS throughout the East of England including Medical Technical Officer, Senior Medical Electronics Engineer, Medical Devices Manager/Medical Devices Safety Lead alongside completing her MSc in Clinical Engineering. Carla joined Althea in 2014 as Clinical Equipment Manager before becoming MES Operations Manager in Peterborough. She is currently in phase one of submitting her CEng and hopefully will be the first Althea UK woman with CEng after her name!

Mehrnoosh Atashbiz completed work experience in 1998 whilst studying BSc in Biomedical Engineering back in Iran. She worked in Medical Equipment R&D Establishment as a Design Engineer before starting her career in the UK in 2004. Mehrnoosh worked as a Biomedical Engineer until 2006 when she was promoted to an EBME Workshop Supervisor. She studied MSc in Medical Electronics and Physics whilst working full time and completed the course in 2009. She is now a Service Manager for Althea.

Louise Spridgeon has completed two introductory level courses with us and is a mature student currently attending Peterborough College doing her Level Three Electronic and Electrical Engineering BTEC, whilst her son is now also attending college! Louise is enjoying working through the Althea training programme which I have developed for her.

Parisa and Samira Esfahani – Parisa is one of our amazing Power Systems Engineers while Samira joins us as one of our talented Biomedical Engineers (they’re sisters). Both have both completed several training courses, including more recently An Introduction to Anaesthesia and Ventilation.

Pegah Monem originally started at Althea as a Junior Biomedical Engineer from TBS, before being promoted to Senior Biomedical Engineer and has just been promoted to Lead Engineer at RNOH Stanmore. Well done Pegah!

Finally, Sue Simpson has a BEng (Hons) Electronic and Electrical Engineering, an MSc in Medical Physics and is a Registered Clinical Scientist. Sue started her career in the NHS in Radiotherapy Physics, moved to Clinical Engineering Management with a team of 20+ engineers and scientists for a 2000 bed NHS Trust before joining what is now Althea in 2006. Sue is currently UK Head of MES Operations for Althea and a member of the senior management team.

Happy International Women’s Day, to all our amazing staff – who bring an invaluable wealth of talent, skills and experience to Althea – and to you! #IWD2020 #EachforEqual