Devon hospital pilots new technology to help keep hospital a COVID-free hub

A South Devon hospital is piloting new technology to help keep it a COVID-19-free hub - with the help of researchers from the University of Plymouth.

Torbay and South Devon Foundation NHS Trust has been working with Professor Steve Goodhew, from the School of Art, Design and Architecture, to pilot the use of thermal imaging scanners, normally employed in researching building sustainability, on patients and staff entering Newton Abbot Hospital. 

Early in the COVID-19 crisis it was identified that to maintain vital treatment regimes, some vulnerable patients would need to be moved from acute hospital sites, and by doing this the vast majority of cancer patients in the Torbay and South Devon area have been able to continue some form of their treatment. 

The NHS is starting to re-introduce services that were stepped down to manage the response to COVID-19, and staff are working in new ways and introducing changes, to keep patients and staff safe.

Newton Abbot Hospital was earmarked to provide these services and, as with all NHS sites, introduced many changes to working practices to reduce the risk of infection. The latest of which is the introduction of thermal scanning for all patients and staff entering the building from today, Friday 15 May.

Associate Medical Director, Morven Leggott, said: 

"As with all NHS sites, the Newton Abbot Hospital team wanted to keep its patients and staff as safe as possible and for patients to feel confident in our care. The first group of patients to transfer to Newton Abbot were cancer patients, both inpatients and those having outpatient treatment. We then extended the offer of space to other vulnerable patient groups (often shielded), or those where it was important that their treatment continued uninterrupted. We also felt it was vital to continue to be able to offer the minor injury unit service to the local population."

Steve Goodhew, Professor of Environmental Building, and his team from the University are experts in sustainable building construction and architecture and have undertaken many national and European projects in this field. Usually measuring the sustainability of buildings, Steve and Morven decided to collaboate on piloting the technology as another level of defence in the fight against COVID-19 and are trialling it at the Newton Abbot site. The equipment being used has come from the Built Environment Research and CobBauge Research Project.

Professor Goodhew said: 

"The thermal imaging allows you to remotely measure the surface temperatures of objects, including people. It will alert if anyone presents with a scanned temperature outside of a ‘normal’ range. The University is very interested in the impact of thermal imaging upon people’s behaviour and will really benefit from knowing how the staff and patients at Newton Abbot hospital react to having thermal imaging throughout the three entrances of the building."
"Offering assurance to our most vulnerable patients is of utmost importance and we hope that this thermal screening pilot will increase the confidence in those using our services,"

added Morven.