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Cambridge engineers use industrial modelling techniques to help Addenbrooke’s Hospital

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Cambridge engineers are helping Addenbrooke’s Hospital to manage the Covid-19 emergency
Cambridge engineers are helping Addenbrooke’s Hospital to manage the Covid-19 emergency

Cambridge engineers are helping Addenbrooke’s Hospital to manage the Covid-19 emergency.

Modelling tools designed to improve the efficiency of factories are being utilised to enhance the hospital’s own modelling.

It gives an insight into how day-to-day activities might be affected by a rise in patient numbers in the coming weeks or months.

A team from the University of Cambridge’s department of engineering have worked on ‘discrete event simulations’ to manage the flow of patients through hospital wards in the event of a surge in cases, and anticipate waiting times, bed availability, and equipment and staff shortages.

“It’s looking at the physical flow of patients and projecting admissions rates into the future - identifying where ‘bottlenecks’ might occur, and where the hospital might need to scale up beds, ventilators, oxygen and staff as part of their COVID-19-orientated activities,” said Dr Ajith Parlikad, of Cambridge’s Institute of Manufacturing and the lead on simulation

“We started with a flow diagram of how we thought the hospital worked, then talked it through with the team at Addenbrooke’s.

“It was quite close to their own model, but we were able to factor in more details, such as ICU beds, ‘COVID-positive’ beds (patients with the virus who don’t require intensive care), and the initial checking and testing process when patients arrive – everything has a statistical distribution associated with it.”

The department of engineering is also supporting Addenbrooke’s in other ways.

Industrial engineering students have volunteered their time, coordinated by Tom Ridgman and Florian Urmetzer, to focus on the hospital’s oxygen supply - among other things how it might be replenished and filtered - and to model and optimise Covid-19 testing processes.

Further work is also being done on modelling that will help the hospital better understand staffing level availability during the disruptions such as the Covid-19 outbreak.

“At this time of unprecedented change for the NHS, our teams are working around the clock to set up innovative ways of working to best care for patients and protect our staff,” said Dr Ewen Cameron, Director of Improvement and Transformation at Cambridge University Hospitals.

“The hospital looks very different now to a few weeks ago, and we remain open to additional ideas on how to manage this crisis as best we can. New challenges require new ways of thinking, and we are hugely grateful to the Institute for Manufacturing for offering their expertise to help us beat the virus.”

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