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New technology puts unit among the best

Hospital staff help podiatry patients across the country

YOUR boots may be made for walking, but what if your foot needs some adjustment? Expert technicians based at Herne Bay’s Queen Victoria Hospital don’t need to walk a mile in your shoes to work out how to help. Thanks to the latest technology, much of it paid for by the hospital’s League of Friends, and staff who are determined to be the best, the orthotics department has won contracts across the UK and is fast becoming a centre of excellence.
Liz Crudgington went to find out more…

IN YOUR SHOES: Production operations manager Jit Olk
IN YOUR SHOES: Production operations manager Jit Olk

ABOUT half of the population would benefit from specialised insoles in their shoes, according to productions manager Jit Olk. And while that may be unwelcome news for them, it means there is an almost unending demand for the services of the team producing the devices. The former Pfizer worker is already capitalising on that, thanks to donations of high-tech equipment that means six times more insoles can be produced per day. His department – with just four technicians – provides equipment for patients across Kent as well as in Wales, Surrey and for other health trusts. He said:

“We punch above our weight. There is competition out there and I want to make sure these guys’ jobs are secure. We are continuously evolving to make it better, cheaper, quicker. We are in a good place now but we don’t stop.”

bIn the past, insoles were produced by heat-moulding plastic to a solid plaster cast of the patient’s foot. It was a lengthy process involving several different stages and a lot of waiting in between. But now, a profile of the foot is made with a plaster cast or putty then scanned on to a computer. The corrective insole is then designed on screen and sent to a machine as an electronic file. It is cut out from a giant block of plastic and the whole process takes place in an unassuming building at the entrance to Herne Bay’s community hospital. Mr Olk said:

“We used to make six devices a day, now we do 35 or 40. High-volume clinics have their own scanners so they just send us the digital file and that saves even more time. When I joined there was a 12-week wait, now it is less than a week. I am a patient too, I don’t want to wait 12 weeks for an insole, I want them then and there.”

The department is continuing to evolve, and is now working on 3D printing, with patents pending. Mr Olk said:

“We are trying to become a centre of excellence and bring as much work in from other trusts as possible. They are shutting their labs down and outsourcing all their work to the private sector. The level of skill we have here is valuable, and coupled with the investment in the equipment means we have a lot to offer.”

Rivalling private treatment

SUPPORT: Consultant surgeon Ralph Graham
SUPPORT: Consultant surgeon Ralph Graham

IF YOU had to list some of the top hospitals in the country, Herne Bay probably wouldn’t be one of the places that comes to mind. But thanks to a £1.5 million refit of the day surgery unit, it is now one of the three best-equipped operating theatres for foot surgeons in the country. Around 1,000 procedures are carried out there each year, on patients who come from all over the county and the unit, run by Kent Community Health NHS Trust, s set to expand next year. Consultant surgeon Ralph Graham said:

“The volume of work is growing and we will be employing extra staff. We do any operation involving the foot, from the ankle to the toe, including bunions, hammer toes, flat feet and nerve damage. The support from the League of Friends is extraordinary and with their investment as well as we are one of the three best-equipped podiatric surgeries in the country.”

HAND-FINISHED: Technician Lyn Colman puts the final touches to one of the inserts
HAND-FINISHED: Technician Lyn Colman puts the final touches to one of the inserts

The team of three surgeons sees around 3,000 patients a year and two surgeons based in the west of the county will soon be using Herne Bay as their theatre. Mr Graham said:

“We are a major foot surgery centre for the whole of Kent. The surgeons who are coming here were previously using private theatres. But we can rival what they offer, including Hepa [high-efficiency particulate absorption] filters in the ceiling giving ultra clean air and a television built into the theatre so patients have something to distract them during their surgery.”

The 10 beds in the unit are also new, and act as operating trolleys as well, meaning there is no need to transfer patients. The theatre has a video camera so operations can be transmitted live oi filmed for training.

Herne Bay Times, January 2nd 2014


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