Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

From enemas to eureka moments: nurse inventors as the mothers of invention



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Everyday, in hospitals and clinics around the world, members of the nursing profession are faced with problems that need solving and systems that need improving for better patient care and more efficient nursing. We talk to two nurses whose innovative inventions made it to market

nurse inventors

Not all medtech innovations are the product of PhD students in university labs or professors pottering around in garden sheds. Many are the inspired ideas of nurses who, working closely with patients, are in a prime position to see opportunity not in how things work but how they don’t – then to design solutions, and to adopt and promote these new ideas. Here are two nurse inventors, at opposite ends of the globe, who have done just that.

Lorraine Parthemore – inventor of the Parthemore Pulley

A registered nurse with almost 40 years’ experience in orthopaedic surgery in her home country, New Zealand, as well as in the USA, Lorraine Parthemore puts her inventive streak down to growing up on a farm. ‘In the 1960s, everybody was frugal; we made do with what we had, adapting things to suit.’ It was these practical skills and her ability to think laterally that led to the invention of the Parthemore Pulley.

As Clinical Leader of Orthopaedics at New Plymouth’s Southern Cross Hospital back in 2006, Parthemore was unhappy with the traction method used during anterior cervical fusion (a surgery that involves removing a damaged disc from the neck and replacing it with a bone graft). ‘The equipment was bulky and hard to work around, which added to the operating time and compromised sterility. I thought there had to be a way to improve it,’ she says, but she couldn’t find anything better on the market.

So Parthemore decided to design a device herself – a freestanding pulley with a counterweight that could be attached directly to the operating table to keep the neck in traction. ‘I made my first rough sketches in November 2006 and submitted a final draft later that month to a manufacturer,’ she explains.

After some tweaks, the manufacturer, Alpine Technology, produced a prototype which Parthemore used at Southern Cross Hospital, with great success. The pulley reduced operating time by up to an hour, streamlined the procedure by freeing up space around the operating table, and was safer to use.

Regulatory hurdles

‘The development phase went smoothly. I was lucky to have the support of the hospital’s management, surgeon and my colleagues,’ Parthemore explains. ‘However, my biggest hurdle was trying to register the design with the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority. In December 2012, after five years of “paper wars” and rising costs, I gave up the fight and I formed a commercial relationship with medical equipment specialists Opritech, based on the South Island, to register, make and market the product.’

Lorraine Parthemore with the Parthemore Pulley

Lorraine Parthemore with the Parthemore Pulley

The first commercial model of the pulley was used at Taranaki Base Hospital in December 2013, and the device is now also used at Southern Cross Hospital as well as being marketed throughout New Zealand and potentially abroad in the future.

‘Throughout my career, like many nurses, I’ve come up with lots of ideas that have improved patient care and procedures,’ she adds. ‘The Parthemore Pulley venture was never about personal gain. I just wanted to inspire colleagues to push quality improvement initiatives to another level and to be an advocate for all those nurses whose innovations frequently go unheralded.’

Neomi Bennett, inventor of Neo-slip

‘It all started with an essay,’ says Neomi Bennett, registered nurse, inventor and entrepreneur. ‘During my nursing training at Kingston University in London, we were asked to explore problems that student nurses experience, and I chose to look at anti-embolism stockings and the prevalence of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

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‘As a former healthcare assistant, I knew that compression stockings weren’t being used properly because nurses and patients – particularly the elderly – found them difficult to put on. But I was shocked to discover that around 25,000 people die each year of preventable hospital-acquired DVT. And in the UK alone, the cost to the NHS to manage DVT is £640m,’ Bennett explains. ‘So I experimented at home with different materials to find a simple, affordable solution to the problem.’ The result was Neo-Slip – a low-friction pouch placed over the foot and ankle, enabling the tight elasticated stockings to be easily slipped on.

Encouraged by her tutors, Bennett entered a university enterprise competition. ‘Not only did I get my first funding but it confirmed that Neo-Slip was an idea worth pursuing and manufacturing,’ she says.

Neomi Bennett with the Neo-Slip

Neomi Bennett with the Neo-Slip

Entering the Dragon’s Den

A year after graduating in 2012, Bennett won funding from social entrepreneur charity UnLtd, which also gave her advice, networking opportunities and practical support to help get Neo-Slip off the ground. Two years later, seeking further funding and to expand her customer base, she appeared on BBC’s Dragon’s Den and, although she didn’t win the Dragons over, the experience offered great exposure, helped hone her pitching skills and drive up sales.

A winner of over a dozen awards for its ingenuity and efficacy, Neo-Slip is now being used in private and NHS hospitals, and nursing homes across the UK, and is available on NHS prescription. It is also making significant inroads in the USA, Canada and Europe.

Building a business brain

During the four years from concept to market, Neomi’s once-limited business knowledge has grown with support from Kingston University’s Enterprise team and UnLtd. ‘I had to ensure the product was quality tested and accepted by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), research its feasibility, apply for a patent, as well as sorting out packaging, my website and learning how to apply and bid for hospital tenders. It’s been quite a learning process.’

Now, as well as overseeing the running of her business, Neo-Innovations UK, attending entrepreneur networking events and being involved in a parliamentary group to prevent DVT, Bennett still nurses. ‘It’s very important to me to maintain and improve my skills,’ she says.

‘My greatest ambition is to have my devices in hospitals all over the world, accessible to everyone who needs it,’ she explains, ‘and I’m continuing to develop other products to make life easier for nurses and patients. If I can be a nurse inventor, so can you – with the right support.’

What comes after eureka?

  • Research it: look online and in journals, and speak to colleagues to establish your invention’s uniqueness.
  • Register it: read our article on essential global IP resources for more details.
  • Make it: turning your concept into a ‘real’ product that can be seen and touched is the best way to promote your invention.
  • Plan it: draft a simple business plan covering potential costs, customers, distributors and investors.
  • Get support: with business and legal issues through online resources and business organisations.
  • Network: contact and learn from other entrepreneurs/nurse inventors in your area or online (for example, LinkedIn’s Nurse Inventor group).
  • Be inspired: read inventors’ success stories on our site and at Makernurse, or The Nerdy Nurse.

With thanks to Amanda Birch.

About the author

Janice Morton is a freelance writer and editor with more than 25 years' experience of producing features and news for print and online publications, on subjects ranging from health and education to travel, fashion and charities.

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