Invention to drastically reduce medical waste among Irish James Dyson awards

19 Sep 2019

From left: Máire Kane and Hannah Grogan, winners of the 2019 national James Dyson Award at Medicall Ambulance HQ in Dublin. Image: Patrick Browne/Browne Photography

An invention developed by two NCAD students that could drastically cut back on the need for single-use medical items has won the grand national James Dyson Award.

While the Government and society at large are eager to eliminate single-use plastics and other items for the sake of the planet, the need to prevent the spread of disease means the same attitude can’t be applied to emergency medical waste.

However, two students from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) have been named overall winners of the Irish leg of the James Dyson Award for an invention that could reduce this waste by as much as two thirds.

Máire Kane and Hannah Grogan – both aged 22 – developed the ‘Personal Patient Pack’ in consultation with healthcare experts from St James’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire Rehabilitation Hospital and Medicall Ambulance Service.

During this time, the pair learned that in a typical emergency call-out, the plastic masks, nasal tubes and other items are dumped upon arrival at A&E. Throughout the patient’s stay in hospital and as they move wards, more items are again thrown away, significantly increasing the amount of plastic waste.

The Personal Patient Pack transports an individual patient’s items in sterile pockets so they can be reused multiple times, dramatically reducing the quantities of medical waste. This pack will follow the patient from the ambulance and their time at a hospital ward.

Each pack is traceable to the patient through an embedded RFID tag, with the patient details taken by the paramedic and input on an iPad and then sent to the hospital in real time.

Crucially, when the patient is discharged, the pack can be put in the existing hospital laundry bin as the polycotton material can withstand the high laundry temperatures needed to eliminate germs.

The runners-up

Barry Sheehan, head of design at TU Dublin and one of the competition’s judges, said the device was “deceptively simple and very clever”.

“It is not about the object itself but rather the process that it affords. One simple, relatively low-tech product can have an immediate effect on the high cost and high waste incurred as patients are on their health journey from accident to recovery,” he said.

Kane and Grogan will now share €2,200 in prize money from the James Dyson Foundation and will now continue to the international stage of this year’s James Dyson Award in November, along with the two Irish runner-up inventions.

These include Smart Gluco, a device invented by University of Limerick student Orla Murphy, which is a wearable insulin pump for type 1 diabetes that eliminates the risk of insulin blockages by removing the need for cannulas.

The second runner-up was Daniella Kaligorsky of TU Dublin who invented Checkkit, a new toolkit that simulates the physical symptoms of breast cancer to promote early identification by educating users on self-examination.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic