Innovative new solutions win NHS support as part of drive to improve management of long-term conditions

A CARDIOVASCULAR screening system that uses retinal images; a home-based service to diagnose patients with sleep apnoea; and devices to detect blocked leg arteries and neuropathy in diabetics heave been named winners of an NHS competition aimed at finding innovative new ways to combat long-term conditions.

The four finalists were among 50 entrants from around the world in the Smart Solutions for Healthcare competition, which aims to find better, more cost-effective approaches to diagnosis and treatment for patients with cardiovascular disease and other common long-term conditions. All four products will now undergo evaluation at healthcare sites in the North West of England.

iGrading CVD software from Medalytix in Liverpool offers a new way to assess people's risk of cardiovascular disease based on a simple retinal image, which is analysed using automated algorithms. It does not require specialist staff and provides almost instant results. Medalytix is claiming it could help cut the cost of the Government's Health Check screening programme for over-40s by up to 3%.

The Padd device from Dialog Devices in Loughborough detects peripheral arterial disease (PAD) by using infra-red light to assess blood volume changes in the foot before and after the leg is raised. Padd offers a rapid and simple way to detect and monitor PAD in a primary care setting and, unlike tests in current use, is reliable for use on diabetics.

The sleep study service by Cambridge-based Trillian allows diagnosis of sleep apnoea in patients' own homes through the use of an electronic monitoring device. Patients collect the device from their GP surgery, leave it on overnight and return it next day. The data is then sent to Trillian for analysis. The total cost of £250 compares to £750 for diagnosis in a specialist hospital sleep centre.

Finally, the VibraTip by McCallan Medical of Nottingham uses vibrations to test for peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) in the feet of diabetic patients. Unlike tuning forks, which are currently used, it provides a consistent source of vibration so that results are more reliable. The device, which is the size of a key fob and costs around £6, is small and inexpensive enough for nurses or patients to keep in their pocket.

Smart Solutions for Healthcare is run by TrusTECH, the North West NHS Innovation Hub based in Manchester. Programme staff will now set up and monitor evaluations of the winning products and services. The winning companies, which were selected by a panel of healthcare experts, will also be offered office space in the MedTECH centre.

The NHS faces a monumental challenge in the years ahead and new technologies and services will be required to help change the way care is delivered

Dr Bryan Griffiths of TrusTECH said: "The NHS faces a monumental challenge in the years ahead and new technologies and services will be required to help change the way care is delivered. Smart Solutions for Healthcare has highlighted some of the ingenious potential solutions which are available.

"All four of the winners provide rapid and simple ways to diagnose long-term conditions in a primary care environment instead of specialist centres as at present. Not only do they provide significant savings on the initial testing costs, but allowing earlier diagnosis gives scope for more effective treatment and prevention. This, in turn, ensures better outcomes for patients and savings on longer-term care."