Collaborative working will take child prosthetics to the next level | Raj Purewal

Raj Purewal

Raj Purewal reveals all about a lifechanging new project set to revolutionise child prosthetics and change children’s lives forever.

What happens during childhood affects health and wellbeing in later life. For children who require either an upper limb or lower limb prosthetic, having the correct prosthetic that enables them to play, socialise, go to school and enjoy life is paramount. Innovation in child prosthetics is essential. Thankfully, it is an area going through a period of rapid progress. 

Last year, for instance, the Department of Health announced funding for children’s prosthetics, which formed part of a larger budget of £1.5 million to help improve the lives of hundreds of children (£750,000 went on the provision of activity and £750,000 on prosthetics research). 

As the profile of the prosthetics community increases, developments are gathering pace which stimulate research, encourage collaboration and ultimately accelerate innovation.

One such initiative is the Starworks innovation project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and led by Devices for Dignity NIHR Health Technology Co-operative. It is a young people’s prosthetics research collaboration that brings children and their families together with key opinion-leaders from the NHS, industry, clinical academia and leading national research centres with capabilities in child prosthetics.

The project has three stages. Firstly, a series of workshops, termed ‘sandpit’ events, run by TRUSTECH in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University, were held across the UK to analyse the issues and needs of children born limbless or who have required a partial or full amputation.

The events were designed to be delivered in a fun and interesting environment, with lots of scope for creating and sharing ideas, to come up with exciting new potential solutions. Each event had a different theme and unique buzz, and many different outcomes and ideas emerged as a result.

What was evident from this stage was that many families felt it was their first opportunity to speak about what would make their lives easier. They felt at the centre of the innovation process by being given the chance to offer opinions and insight into the issues and problems they face on a daily basis. 

Before this, the children and their families could end up feeling frustrated if their opinion wasn’t asked, which shows there is a real need for complete change. After all, who understands the difficulties faced better than the children and families themselves? 

Starworks is centred on the needs of children and their families, as well as the NHS, and ensures there is the ideal balance of ‘clinical pull’ and ‘technical push’ to create an energetic environment in which to be creative and form partnerships with industry. By engaging with the prosthetics industry to understand the challenges they face when developing paediatric prosthesis, as well as with stakeholders such as clinicians, patients and academics, it has enabled input from all sides of the care pathway.

Both children and their families have a clear desire to make things better and this initiative provides a unique opportunity for them to steer the sessions, encouraging them to take ownership of the process and ensuring their voices are heard. 

During these sessions, some of the biggest issues and opportunities for child prosthetic technologies and service provision were discussed around the themes of socket interfaces, upper and lower limb personalisation and adaption, and digital innovations to enhance life with prosthetics. 

The second stage facilitated a funding call. Up to £50,000 funding was available for solutions that addressed unmet needs to help improve outcomes delivered within the child prosthetic field. The call was open to organisations from academia, industry and the NHS, and each project had a close interface with children and families. 

This element of the programme attracted several interesting innovations. Applications from academia, industry, small and medium enterprises and charities are being assessed by experts before the winners are announced, with the projects due to begin in February 2018. 

It is also important to focus on system needs, through which it has been possible to identify areas such as lack of knowledge around the regulatory framework for use of 3D-printed prosthetics by the NHS. As a result, and as the third stage of the programme, a workshop planned in 2018, led by key regulatory bodies, will develop a road-map to CE marking to support innovative companies in this area.

Starworks helps drive forward innovations and provide a platform for the essential and expert multi-stakeholder relationships required to ensure that the very best innovations will be developed and commercialised for the benefit of children living with a prosthetic limb.

It is collaborations like this that will increase research across the system to accelerate the translation of new inventions and developments in child prosthetics into everyday use – everyone involved can’t wait to see the outcomes from some of these innovative and creative projects. In fact, there is great appetite to continue this initiative beyond the current funding window because accelerating innovation in children’s prosthetics will change their lives forever.


Raj Purewal is business development and partnerships director at TRUSTECH. For further information about Starworks, email innovations@trustech.org.uk. Follow TRUSTECH on Twitter @TRUSTECH_NHS

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