NHS to inject more robots into healthcare with UWE Bristol partnership

Robotics could help care for an ‘ageing population requiring ever more complex treatment’

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has partnered with North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) in developing robotics and other healthcare technology for one of the UK’s leading medical centres, Southmead Hospital.

The partnership will explore how artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and socially and physically assistive robots could be employed to better support patients.

One of the anticipated robotic systems is CHIRON - currently at the prototype stage - designed to support older adults with mobility and other ageing-related impairments. The robot could eventually assist with anything from bringing a tray of food or drink to a patient whenever needed, to helping those with mobility issues to their feet and practise walking to aid their recovery.

“Hospitals are likely to be the first adopters of this type of technology so it will be beneficial to test our prototype in a hospital setting and work with hospital staff in shaping it,” said Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, leading research in Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

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"Through this partnership, we can have a more clinically-informed focus to our research and make it more relevant to the specific needs of the patients and NHS staff.”

Robotics are nothing new to Southmead, as they are already used to conduct a range of cancer surgeries, dispense pharmacy medicines, transport supplies, and analyse blood samples. Some benefits of employing robots at the hospital include faster deliveries to wards and reduced injuries to porters. 

Moreover, hospital stays for prostate cancer surgery have been reduced from three days to one, thanks to the less invasive and more accurate procedures performed by a robot. 

Tim Whittlestone, North Bristol NHS Trust Clinical Director for Anaesthesia, Surgery, Critical Care and Renal, claims that the focus on robots does not mean that human medical practitioners will become redundant.

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“We have an ageing population requiring ever more complex treatment,” he said. “Robots can help us do some of the more mundane, repeatable tasks and free up staff to do what they do best – listening, thinking and caring.”

This partnership is indicative of the appetite for digital transformation and the exploration of cutting-edge technology within the NHS and wider public sector, with the aim to improve and find new ways to deliver care and services.

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