UK-first disinfection robot could enable more medical procedures and help cut waiting lists
A robot that decontaminates air is being trialled in a Cornish hospital – with early results suggesting it could reduce room downtime in critical parts of the hospital by more than 60%.
The robot, made by Akara, has been working at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (RCHT) since June 2022. The trial has been carried out in collaboration with the University of Plymouth-led project, eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC), which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
Already being utilised by staff, the robot is being trialled in the endoscopy department and is showing promising results in its ability to disinfect the air. Following certain medical examinations where aerosol generating procedures are performed, rooms needed to be left vacant for periods of more than 25 minutes in order to allow the air in the room to be replenished by clean air from the ventilation system. With the Akara robot, the process of air replenishment can be greatly accelerated, cutting the downtime to just 10 minutes. These findings will be presented at the Infection Prevention Society (IPS) Conference in Bournemouth.
The trials are ongoing, and University of Plymouth researchers are supporting scientific validation efforts and working to understand staff perceptions, barriers and facilitators to having the robot there. This feedback will be of value to both the hospital and developers in potentially rolling out the device further.
The idea was born out of COVID-19 pressures, where thorough cleaning of air was paramount to avoid infection spread. The robot is designed to eliminate COVID-19 as well as other viruses, including flu.
Dr Hannah Bradwell, Digital Health Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, explained the project’s potential: 
“The two questions we’re asking are does the robot disinfect to the same standard as the ventilation system alone and, if so, does it save time? If the answer is ‘yes’ to both, then the robot can only be a good thing."
Joanne Taylor, consultant nurse and deputy director of infection prevention and control at RCHT, commented: 
“The robot has definitely improved things for patients as the reduced downtime means we can get more patients seen in a day, while maintaining the highest standards in environmental cleanliness. Based on time savings made during the trial period, we estimate that its use could enable as many as 2,400 additional procedures a year which would have a very significant effect on reducing the waiting lists.”
Lynsey Farrell, Endoscopy Unit Lead at RCHT, said

“The robot has had a really positive impact on the department. Staff are concerned about the increased risk of COVID-19 for patients due to aerosol-generating procedures, and also for themselves, so they’re very keen to work with new technologies offering the potential to make the environment safer for everyone.”

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