�8m new hi-tech ward at St Mary's
Sanchez Manning DOCTORS examining patients via webcam, intelligent windows and water taps operated by a wave of the hand may sound like science fiction. But these futuristic features are a very real part of a new �8million intensive care unit (ICU) open
DOCTORS examining patients via webcam, "intelligent" windows and water taps operated by a wave of the hand may sound like science fiction.
But these futuristic features are a very real part of a new �8million intensive care unit (ICU) opening at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington this month.
The technologically advanced 16-bed ward, the first of its kind in the UK, will allow medical staff to provide round-the-clock care for critically ill patients without having to leave their bedside to consult with doctors or other staff.
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And if the hospital is chosen as one of the four trauma supercentres planned for the capital, the unit will play a key part in dealing with the victims of serious injuries such as stab and gunshot wounds.
Webcams fitted to the ceiling - giving an aerial view of patients - will enable doctors to conduct examinations without being in the room. And cameras attached to computer consoles in front of the beds will also allow nursing staff to communicate with colleagues in other parts of the hospital.
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It is even hoped the webcams could be used in the future to pass on expertise through live links with medical teams in developing countries.
Lead nurse Sue Burgis explained that one of driving motivations for replacing St Mary's existing ICU, which opened in 1987, was to reduce the risk of infection.
"The reason we put in funding for this unit is because the one we were in was a quarter of the recommended size," she said.
"The spacing between the beds was well below national standards. Space is a major issue when it comes to infection control - we've closed beds before at St Mary's because of lack of space between beds."
Other fixtures in the revolutionised ICU include movement-sensitive "magic taps", which turn off and on with a single hand gesture, and "intelligent" windows that can flick between opaque and clear with the switch of a button.
In another development, the unit is set to become paper-free with staff freed from the chore of filling in charts. Instead, patients' medical information will be transmitted to a computer at the foot of their bed.
Clinical nurse Shakira Leather said: "Gone are the days of nurses standing around the bed writing on clipboards and charts."
Entertainment will be provided by a row of wide-screen televisions, which will broadcast everything from a 360-degree view of the London skyline as seen from the hospital to episodes of EastEnders.
Ms Burgis said: "Critically ill patients tend to lose track of time and days so anything that keeps them in touch with the outside world is a good thing and can help with their recovery."
Some may worry about the possible bedlam which could ensue if any of the high-tech systems fail, but the ICU's staff say they have already anticipated these concerns.
"If anything goes wrong we just go back to paper," said Ms Burgis. "The unit is still about nurses and doctors giving hands-on care. We're not replacing the care with technology - we're just enhancing it.