Academics and industry partners in Birmingham are developing a new device that will increase the chances of survival for newborn babies in the event of a crash in an ambulance at up to 40 miles per hour.
Product design experts from Birmingham City University have teamed up with Evac+Chair International – manufacturers of the world’s leading stairway evacuation chair – to develop the first-ever Incubator trolley Interface (ITI) for neonates which can be securely attached to European Ambulance Loading Stretchers (EALS) and those in other markets worldwide,
With the newborn contained within an incubator, the partners are devising an interface which will not only decelerate the neonate in the event of a crash, but also decelerate all the intensive care medical equipment travelling with the baby, ensuring no ventilator tubes or infusion lines are stretched and potentially taken away from the patient.
Developed through Birmingham-based Evac+Chair International’s ParAid division, which already manufactures the award-winning ambulance child restraint (ACR) – a flexible and fully adjustable harnessing system for the safe and effective transport of infants and children, and the Neo-Restraint, a fully adjustable close proximity harness to reduce excessive movements and vibration during transport. This will give a better outcome for the baby, so ITI will also not only focus on being a suitable crash tested piece of kit, but will also try to isolate the baby from sudden accelerations/decelerations to reduce the stress of road transport.
To test the effectiveness of the design, ITI will be impact tested at 40 miles per hour in a similar manner to how the European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) verifies the fit and protection offered by child restraints in the event of a front or side crash.
More than 78,000 lives have been saved since Euro NCAP’s crash safety tests were launched in 1997, and the Birmingham team hope their ITI and related products will achieve a safety rating similar to those given on child restraint systems.
The project has been made possible thanks to a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) which has been agreed between Birmingham School of Architecture and Design, part of Birmingham City University, and Evac+Chair International. The terms of the program will
see a recent graduate from the University’s Product and Furniture Design employed to work on the two-year project. Research findings from the collaboration will also be fed in to the University’s curriculum ensuring that its teaching is informed by industry practice and innovation.
Dr Panch Suntharalingam from Birmingham City University is the lead academic on the partnership program. He said:
“The major challenge in this project will be the development of the Incubator trolley Interface with impact-resistant fixing points and ports for oxygen, power and other survival supplies situated around what encapsulates the newborn.
“In order for the product to be desirable, it needs to be compatible with any European ambulance trolley, so this adds an additional complication as the variation in emergency vehicles and their components differs across the continent.
“However, our work is vital in guaranteeing the safety of newborn patients in ambulances and giving their families piece of mind – something that will be at the forefront of all our minds throughout the project.”
There is a lack of research in recent ambulance accidents in Europe but in the USA, between
1992 and 2011, there was an average of 1,500 crashes involving an ambulance that resulted in an injury, with 2,600 incapacitated as a result. 29 per cent of the deaths caused in these incidents were ambulance passengers.
Ges Wallace, Managing Director, Evac+Chair International, said:
“Working with Birmingham City University will enable us to develop a world-class innovative safety conscious product to complement our existing range of specialist patient and casualty handling equipment.”
There are approximately 16,000 transfers of premature and sick babies each year, according to the UK Neonatal Transport Group. Many of these transfers are needed so that babies can be cared for in the right type of neonatal unit. 44 per cent of neonatal transfers in 2014/15 were of babies who were moved to a more specialist unit. For example, this happens when a baby needs complex, long term intensive care because they are very premature or sick. Another 44 per cent of transfers were of babies moved to a less specialist unit when their condition improved.