Posted on August 27, 2019 by staff

‘I came out of retirement to fight hospital infections’

The former director of infection prevention and control at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has launched a tech start-up.

Richard Cooke, 64, came out of retirement in 2017 to found Hy-genie, which is seeking to revolutionise hand hygiene compliance across the healthcare system.

A qualified cycle mechanic and charity volunteer with 40 years of NHS experience, Cooke also sits as a magistrate one day a week. However he has found time in retirement to dive back into the fight against hospital infections.

A staggering 300,000 patients still suffer from healthcare-associated infections each year, creating an annual cost of £1 billion to the NHS.

“The reason I’ve taken it on is in essence because hand hygiene is such a frustration about my career,” he told BusinessCloud. “It is so important in the battle to reduce healthcare-associated infections.

“I’ve seen all the consequences in terms of both patients suffering and sadly patients dying from hospital-acquired infections.

“I’ve got a pretty active week and this is something which is come on as an unexpected extra.

“I’m very keen to see how far we can push this. Can actually can we crack the issue with this type of innovation?”

Hy-genie is an active monitoring system that allows hospitals to continuously detect usage of hand hygiene stations.

The platform provides real-time insight into hand hygiene behaviour, with an aspiration for 100 per cent compliance in hospitals.

A sensor chip in a member of staff’s ID badge links in with wall-mounted gel or soap dispensers to record how often they cleanse their hands. Hy-genie is carrying out an initial ward evaluation involving 115 staff at Alder Hey this year.

“There’s a lot of buy-in at the senior level to try this,” explained Cooke. “We’re also in negotiations with Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral to carry out a second evaluation by the end of the year.

“We know compliance with hand hygiene is at best 50 per cent internationally. Rather than have some sort of broad brush approach, we’re saying ‘let’s put improvement targets to get you up to a higher level and give you appropriate feedback on whether you’re able to maintain that level of improved performance’.

“This idea of personalised feedback and goals is something which in the commercial field is particularly unique, I think.”

Cooke is at pains to point out that individual staff will not face repercussions or penalties as a result of the data collection. For example, the emphasis can be put on ward performance as a whole; night versus day; or Monday-Friday versus weekend to identify problem areas and where additional support and training is needed.

Hy-genie is one of many start-ups based at Nova in Liverpool, an organisation which helps fledgling entrepreneurs build their tech ideas into businesses via investment and practical support.

“From the outset Nova said ‘if you’re looking to change behaviour, you’ve got to put staff at the centre of the issue,” he said. “So whatever bright ideas you may have, you’ve got to test them out with staff, hear their views and understand the obstacles to improving hand hygiene.

“We conducted numerous interviews with staff across a number of NHS trusts and feel Hy-genie is going to be endorsed and backed by NHS staff as a result.

“By and large, virtually all staff want to do the right thing and make sure patients are safe. Unfortunately, the environment that they’re working in may not always be optimal in terms of easy accessibility to perform hand hygiene.

“There may also be issues with staff workload, and forgetfulness as a whole. There are a whole host of reasons for it not being performed adequately.

“Unfortunately bugs are smarter than the people trying to tackle them and it just needs one break in the chain for transmission to occur. So there is constant pressure, as you’re moving from patient to patient, to make sure your hands are not a means for the progress of infection.”

Hy-genie has been funded for the remainder of the year and is looking for more grants as well as to take on external investment. Cooke is planning to hand over the reins to someone full-time in the coming months.

“By the end of the year, I will look to drop down to advisory medical officer and we will put a CEO and the project manager in to move it on to the next stage.”