Cymru Vs Covid – Innovation seizes the day

The UK’s first and only online Health Hack was held on the 20th of May with six winning teams, over 100 attendees, and £13,000 awarded to innovative solutions that can help to fight COVDI 19 related issues in the NHS.

Health Hack 2020

The pan-Wales event invited Health and Care workers to pitch COVID 19 related problems to an audience of techies, product designers, businesses, makers, industry experts, academics, and NHS colleagues. Issues varied from PPE shortages, to services that could no longer run due to lockdown restrictions. In one week, 13 teams were formed and pitched their innovative solutions to a team of ‘dragons’. 


The winners were a team from North Wales, with Anaesthetist Dr Simon Burnell pitching a solution for colleagues to communicate while wearing protective face masks. Dr Burnell said “Communication is essential during procedures where the surgical team must work closely, but health and safety is also paramount, so their FFP3 masks cannot be removed to talk to each other. The downside is that our voices become muffled and indistinct, and we cannot read facial cues. I proposed a solution which allows a device to be placed in any mask, which can transmit to every colleague, or to one communal speaker.” 


Simon - MSParc Health Hack


This novel solution captured the imagination of the Dragons, who awarded the team with £5,000 donated by Awyr Las, and £3,000 donated by Santander Universities towards involving a Bangor University graduate on the project. 


Bryn Jones, Head of Knowledge Exchange and key contact for Santander Universities at Bangor University said: “Many congratulations to the wining team, we're especially pleased that a Product Design graduate from Bangor University contributed to the development of such an innovative design. We are delighted to award them £3,000 from our Santander University's COVID Crisis Enterprise Support initiative to support the next stage of development". 


Other winners of the night included; help to move a service to provide physical and emotional care for the vulnerable to an online platform, surgical masks which would allow those with hearing impairments to lip read, a video solution for paediatric physiotherapy to continue safely and remotely, pulmonary rehabilitation remote solutions, and an e-learning platform to provide resilience and mental health solutions for NHS staff. 


Chris Martin, Deputy Chair of Life Sciences Hub Wales and head dragon at the Covid-19 Hack said “I’m really thrilled to have been a part of the first virtual Welsh Health Hack, put together to assist in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. We had a difficult choice in the dragon’s den as so many of the solutions deserved to receive support. The challenges and solutions presented at the event highlight, more than ever, the value of health, industry, 

academia, and others collaborating on innovative solutions for the betterment of health and social care in Wales, and beyond.” 


The overall theme of the requirement of online resources has prompted a new challenge – the need for a ‘virtual hospital’. Pryderi ap Rhisiart, Managing Director of M-SParc, said “We proposed this hack because we held the 7th Welsh Health Hack at the Science Park in January, and had seen first-hand what innovative solutions come of it. In two weeks, we had called the partners together again and had 19 problems ready to be pitched! To then see 13 novel solutions come of this was incredible, the whole thing took less than a month from start to finish. 


Taking the Hack online was a reflection of the pandemic we are in, of course, and it was no surprise to see so many challengers asking for online or virtual solutions. We will now continue to work with partners to see how we can solve this problem. The idea of a ‘virtual hospital’ is certainly worth exploring. 


It is also fantastic to see a real collaborative effort emerging within the teams, with the winners featuring an NHS staff member, a member of the Enterprise Hub @ M-SParc, and now a Bangor University graduate also. Collaboration! That’s what M-SParc is all about, and it’s been an honour to watch it unfold in the space of a week, and in such a difficult time.” 


Funding came from Awyr Las, the North Wales NHS Charity. Kirsty Thomson, Head of Fundraising, said “We were pleased to be able to support the Hack, such an exciting and well-timed event. It was brilliant to be able to award funding to solutions we could see taking shape, and we know that in the next few months we will see real progress as these develop and begin to be put to work within the NHS.” 


Pryderi ap Rhisiart finished by saying “The key message from the event was that innovation doesn’t stop. When there is a problem, there will be those with solutions, and Wales certainly pulled out all the stops to provide them. Congratulations to all who took part.” 


The hack was arranged by Menai Science Park (M-SParc) and partners The Bevan Commission, MediWales, the Life Sciences Hub, Betsi Cadwaladr,and Awyr Las and was also supported by Santander.

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