Secondary Care

Industrial modelling techniques used by Cambridge engineers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Originally designed modelling tools to improve efficiency within factories are now being used by Cambridge engineers to support processes within Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

The modelling techniques have been implemented to manage COVID-19 care.

The hospital’s own modelling has been enhanced by the new modelling tools in providing insights into ‘how day-to-day’ activities might be affected by a rise in patient admissions.

A team from Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering have worked on ‘discrete event simulations’ to manage patient flow through hospital wards.

The idea is to manage patient flow in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Also, the simulations have been used to anticipate wait times, bed availability and shortages of staff and equipment.

Dr Ajith Parlikad, lead on the simulation development said “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.”

“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.”

Industrial engineering students are also volunteering to work on the hospital’s oxygen supply, how oxygen is filtered and replenished and the students are looking at ‘how to model and optimise COVID-19 testing processes.’

Duncan McFarlane, Professor in Industrial Information Engineering, said “Two weeks ago, we knew very little about hospital operations, but with close input from the hospital we’ve been able to pick from a series of industrial techniques and apply the most useful ones to this new setting.”

“Instead of production lines we’re now looking at hospital wards, and rather than products or raw materials we are examining the flow of patients and supplies.”

“The support from the hospital has been extraordinary – especially given the level of pressure it has been operating under.”

Dr Ewen Cameron, Director of Improvement and Transformation at Cambridge University Hospitals, added “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.”

“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.”