A cuddly toy that tracks a patient’s vital signs could soon be a crucial weapon in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The innovative idea for the Digital Bunny is being developed by a team taking part in a first ever online Health Hack event organised next week by M-SParc, Menai Science Park, in Gaerwen on Anglesey.
It is being led by Dr Christian Subbe, Consultant in Acute Medicine at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Computer Science and Electronic Engineering students from Bangor University and Chester-based Bryan Griffiths Healthcare who joined forces at a Health Hack in North Wales earlier this year.
Organisers M-SParc hope the online Cymru v Covid-19 Health Hack event will provide a catalyst for similar collaborations to tackle challenges in health and social care posed by the current pandemic.
Among several funding pots up for grabs will be £10,000 from Awyr Las, the NHS charity for the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, and the aim is to identify new tech and service improvement ideas for combating the pandemic.
Meanwhile Dr Bryan Griffiths is pressing on with the digital bunny project and he said: “The idea is that inside the cuddly toy is equipment which can monitor a person’s heart rate, breathing rate, temperature and even pulse oximetry, the amount of oxygen in the blood.
“I do feel the time is right and if we can get the mix of helping with social isolation and providing timely medical benefits we will be on to something.
“Already cuddly toys are used for dementia patients to provide comfort and reassurance and have even been adapted to engage with patients so that toy cats respond to being stroked by purring.
“This combines these benefits with the medical benefits with pulse oximetry a really important feature as it provides an early warning because if a person’s oxygen saturation drops below normal then they are getting more unwell.
“We were initially looking at people living with long-term conditions like diabetes and long-term lung disease which affect about 15 million in the UK but these are applications which have become more important because of Covid-19 so we are trying to speed up the development process.
“It shows the benefits of events like the Hack because when you mix people up in a room and throw them together to address problems you can arrive at innovative solutions.”
The Cymru v Covid Hack, which takes place remotely between Thursday, May 14, and Wednesday, May 20, has been organised by Sion Charles, Deputy Director of healthcare advisory group The Bevan Commission in conjunction with M-Sparc and other stakeholders including BCUHB, Life Sciences Hub Wales and Mediwales.
Dr Lynne Grundy, Associate Director of Research and Development at BCUHB, said “We are delighted to be involved because we see great potential in bringing together people from the health and social care sectors with people from academia and industry and the Digital Bunny project is an example of how that can work.
“We often have clinical staff coming up with ideas based on their experience and this is a way of developing those ideas and identifying the funding and collaboration to help them progress from good idea to problem-solving innovation.
“What we are looking for are innovations that fill a need and have a potential to be scaled up to benefit Wales and potentially whole of the UK.”
Pryderi ap Rhisiart, M-SParc Managing Director, said: “The Welsh Health Hack earlier this year has thrown up some fantastic ideas, and as well as the digital bunny other projects have developed specifically in the face of Covid-19, for example a hands-free door opener.
“This shows the tremendous possibilities there are for innovation and we hope that it will encourage more collaborative working to solve the healthcare problems that clinicians face at this time.
“It’s fantastic that Awyr Las is able to provide two £5,000 Covid-19 Health Hack grants to help BCUHB staff join up with experts from across the medical, business and educational fields to find solutions to problems in fighting the pandemic.
“This seed funding from the NHS Charity could help leverage significantly more funding further down the line.