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Does The Future Of The NHS Lie with Robots?

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How are robots making a difference?

Just a few short years ago, the idea of robots working alongside in humans in healthcare roles would’ve been the stuff of fiction. But nowadays, robotics technology has progressed so much that robots can now carry out all sorts of surgical, social, medical and administration tasks, improving the lives of millions of us.

There are now actually around 70 robots in the UK that have been purchased for use across our healthcare systems. Worldwide, that number is about 4,500. So how are these robots set to shape the NHS in the years to come? Here we look at some of the technology as well as how companies can fund technological and scientific research going forward.

The Versius robot

This one is pretty exciting. As of February this year, two NHS hospitals (one in Edinburgh and the other in Milton Keynes) have been using the Versius surgical robotic system to carry out surgery on patients.

Essentially, Versius is a robot that can perform intricate keyhole surgery, providing better precision than ever before. It’s also portable, so can easily be moved around hospital sites or shared between NHS trusts. It is hoped that as the technology is more widely adopted, operations will be carried out faster so freeing up bed space and bringing better outcomes for patients.

Robotic exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are designed for individuals who have nerve, bone or muscle damage due to injury or illness that has caused paralysis. It’s a wearable device that sends signals to the user’s damaged tissue that then allows them to move the body part in question.

Exoskeletons can also amplify any natural but limited movement that a patient has retained. They can either be entirely passive to act as a support, or they can be powered and equipped with sensors and actuators to be more proactive. It’s not hard to imagine the incredible difference these robotic exoskeletons make to their users and it’s hoped they will soon be available to the NHS.

Diagnostic robots

Not quite as awe-inspiring as robotic exoskeletons and surgical robots but certainly just as valuable are diagnostic robots. These are particularly useful in carrying out large pieces of data manipulation and admin work that would otherwise need to be done by humans. For example, diagnostic robots can scan thousands of medical documents at once, and better identify patients who are at higher risk of cancer and strokes for example.

Testing of this brand new robot has mainly taken place at New York University in the US, but apparently it has never been wrong so far. In time, it’s expected to facilitate a range of key functions in the NHS too.

Robots to combat loneliness

Being in lockdown for the last several months has made many of us feel lonely at times, but even before COVID-19 loneliness particularly amongst the elderly was a big problem.

The answer? A social isolation busting robot of course! Genie Connect, as it’s called, has been produced in the UK and is designed to bring company and companionship to those who are socially isolated. It’s still undergoing trials before it can be rolled out in full, but it can currently complete a number of handy functions and is also easy to use. These include the facility to allow video calling to friends and family, and they can even remind the user when to make medication, as well as connect them with a health and wellbeing team day or night. It even allows users to find and connect with each other safely, based on their hobbies and interests.

Even robots you can swallow!

Those of us with young children will know the feeling well. You turned your back for five seconds and your little one has swallowed a 20p coin/paper clip/something else they shouldn’t. The solution sounds incredible, but it’s actually in the form of an ingestible origami robot, hopefully being purchased by the NHS in the near future.

Yes, you heard it right - a robot you swallow. It’s basically a tiny capsule which then unfolds inside your digestive system. Once in place it can be ‘steered’ using magnetic fields across the stomach lining, and then it can remove foreign objects that have been accidentally ingested. It can also repair any wounds present in the stomach wall.

Similar technologies that contain tiny cameras are already used for various procedures, including taking photos of the digestive system and providing data for diagnostics. What’s great about them is that they are expected to be a viable alternative to (rather uncomfortable and frightening) endoscopies.

How R&D Tax Credits are helping to fund such innovation

Reading about these amazing advances in science and technology you’re probably thinking “Wow” followed by “sounds expensive!” - and yes, you’d be right. Taking such fantastic steps forward in healthcare via the use of robots is making all the difference to peoples’ lives, but innovative companies will have stumped up huge amounts of money to make it happen. We’re not just talking big pharmaceuticals here with money to burn; smaller companies will also have played their part, designing components and engineering new software and systems.

Luckily however, a very lucrative scheme has existed courtesy of the government since the early 2000s, called R&D Tax Credits. The scheme works by allowing companies that have engaged in scientific and/or technological research to receive a portion of their research and development spending back. This is achieved either through a reduction in Corporation Tax, or - for companies that have made a loss - as a cash lump sum.

The fact is that costs and projects that are eligible for R&D Tax Credits are many and varied, and the scheme is open to any company in the UK. Plus, with up to 33 pence in every £1 of R&D expenditure claimable, by not applying (or not applying properly) your company could be missing out on tens of thousands of pounds.

Looking to find out more?

Have a look at our R&D Tax Credits page to get the details, or contact Myriad Associates on 0207 118 6045. We're expert consultants in all things R&D tax-related, and can guide you through the process of claiming. If you'd prefer, you're welcome to use our contact form and one of us will call you back.

Find out how much you could claim today.


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