March 2, 2023
New breakthroughs, including a diagnostic test for a condition that can cause still births, are improving healthcare across Wales, supported by a new Innovation Strategy for Wales.
Across the health and social care sector innovations in health care and technology are improving patient outcomes and wellbeing.
Pre-eclampsia is a life threatening condition, which, if left untreated, can cause serious complications for both mother and baby. It is one condition benefiting from innovation in healthcare technology. A new placental growth factor test (PLFG) for women, which can rule out pre-eclampsia at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is helping to improve diagnosis, prevent maternal complications, reduce still births and prevent pre-term deliveries. The condition can lead to repeated hospital attendance, pre-term births and associated admissions to the Special Care Baby Unit and increased anxiety for pregnant women and their families.
The basic blood and urine tests that are currently used for assessing the severity of pre-eclampsia lack the sensitivity required to predict the outcome of the patient, so a significant number of pregnant women are admitted to hospital for further observations.
Dr Lynda Verghese, and Dr Yee Ping Teoh have introduced a new in-person placental growth factor (PLGF) test to supplement decision making. The rapid test measures PLGF levels in just 15 minutes allowing doctors to quickly group pregnant women by risk and identify those likely to progress to delivery in 14 days. A pilot study showed those most at risk with an abnormally low PLGF level could be treated promptly to prevent further complications such as eclampsia, stroke or maternal morbidity.
With 68% of women able to be cared for quickly through outpatients alone without being admitted and there were zero stillbirths or pre-term deliveries before 37 weeks. Due to the positive pioneering results at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, PLGF testing has been incorporated into local guidance for the management of pregnant women with suspected pre-eclampsia in North Wales.
The project has also been championed by the Bevan Commission as a Bevan Exemplar project at the Senedd with the ambition of rolling it out more widely across the rest of Wales.
Following the launch of the Innovation Strategy for Wales [Monday 27th February] which highlights the Welsh Government’s aim to create the optimal conditions for innovation, a number of innovation workshops are being held to establish even closer working relationships between NHS Wales, universities and the private sector – showcasing a range of new Welsh innovation in health and care.
Other innovative projects introduced by the NHS in Wales include: Liquid biopsy testing to enhance the diagnosis of lung cancer. Using artificial intelligence technology (AI) to review digital prostate cancer slides, prioritising them in order of severity to aid pathologists. Protype wound closure devices, which protect wounds and aid recovery. Get Fit Wales, a digital tool that supports school children to become more active, help those with long term health conditions and support those on waiting lists to manage their condition more effectively.
The Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan said: “This is a hugely exciting time for innovation; this week Welsh Government launched the new Innovation Strategy for Wales which sets out how we will harness innovation to meet Welsh aims and tackle system challenges “Over the last decade we have seen a significant development of the health and care innovation here in Wales, with new and exciting examples of clinical practice and technology coming from NHS Wales, our Welsh Universities and the private sector. Through our new Innovation Strategy, I look forward to seeing more and more initiatives such as PLGF testing, the use of Artificial Intelligence and technologies such as liquid biopsy testing being rolled out across our hugely committed health and care sector in Wales”.
Dr Lynda Verghese is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, and Labour Ward Lead at Wrexham Maelor Hospital said: “This new point of care test is a fantastic and positive step forward in maternity care. Crucially the test can be performed in close proximity to the patients on the maternity ward, removing any potential delay and provide much-needed reassurance to both the medical team and the patient, reducing maternal anxiety and allowing mothers to return home safely for outpatient surveillance. “By using this test we are able to improve the overall patient experience for these women, reducing the impact on their mental health and avoiding the stress of having their lives turned upside down – potentially requiring additional childcare, time out of work, and unexpected costs from travel.”
The new Welsh innovation strategy follows four themes: Education, Economy, Health and Wellbeing and Climate and Nature, with a focus on numerous policy areas such as skills, SME support, retrofitting and innovation within the transport system and funding for research and development.