A new ‘mobile healing’ device which could reduce length of stay, save NHS money and improve patient outcomes is being pioneered at University College Hospital (UCH).
The recyclable portable device - known as the VAC VIA™ - speeds up the healing process for patients with surgical wounds and means they can return home from hospital more quickly. The process known as topical negative pressure therapy enhances the cleaning of wounds and helps them to close.
Although an established practice in several areas of surgery it has relied on expensive and bulky equipment, which has meant patients have had to stay in hospital for longer.
But the new device, launched globally in January, means patients can receive their treatment at home, retaining their independence and mobility.
UCH has developed a dedicated clinic where complex wounds and ulcers can be assessed and cared for by a team including surgeons, specialist nurse and podiatrists.
However it was difficult to offer patients vacuum therapy because the previous devices were much more expensive, not disposable, and could only be loaned to patients meaning they were difficult to track. The overall cost of the new device is a fraction of the price and patients can dispose of it as directed, when the treatment is completed.
Mr Toby Richards, vascular surgeon, said: “The development of this device really enables a patient-centred approach to care. We can now treat patients from the comfort of their own home in combination with state-of-the-art care with all the clinicians involved.
“Because it is a portable and disposable system, it reduces NHS costs and frees up hospital beds relieving pressure on the system. Ultimately it is better for patients to be at home recovering with their families and with their own food.”
The VAC system incorporates a special foam dressing, placed over the wound then connected to a lightweight disposable vacuum pump, which in turn can be carried in a small bag. Vacuum therapy is then applied to the wound and can be sustained for three to five days without returning to hospital.
UCH patient Tawfik Shahin, 58, was one of the first in the world to benefit from the device. Mr Shahin, a diabetes sufferer of 20 years, was admitted to UCH with a severe infection in his foot causing gangrene. The condition was so serious that doctors considered amputating his leg.
However Mr Richards treated the infection by extensive surgery to Mr Shahin’s foot and then reconstructed the blood supply, enabling the wound to heal.
Despite the successful eight hour operation the infection had caused extensive damage to Mr Shahin’s foot. But using the VAC VIA™, Mr Shahin was able to return home within two weeks after his operation rather than stay in hospital for a six week therapy course.
The wound which was the size of a golf ball was soon reduced to that of a two pence piece and has now completely healed.
Tawfik said: “This device is beautiful and much better than the previous model. It means I don’t have to stay in hospital and can go home. My independence is really important to me and because of this device I still feel alive.”
The device has benefits for community health funds too – 75 per cent of all district nursing time is spent on wound care. Diabetes is a major cause of hospital admission and the leading cause of limb loss and amputation in the Western World.
Rosemary Fosah, clinical nurse specialist, said: “The previous model was about A4 size and bulky but the new device fits into the palm of your hand. It’s much more convenient for patients and people who need walking aids can use it with easy as it leaves their shoulders free of any strappings. It is also far less noisy which encourages patients to use it more, improving compliance and speeding up their recovery.”