Window into the future of health

SUFFOLK'S NHS services are for the foreseeable future blighted with debt, but just imagine for a moment what our hospitals could be like if money was no object.

SUFFOLK'S NHS services are for the foreseeable future blighted with debt, but just imagine for a moment what our hospitals could be like if money was no object. Health reporter HAZEL BYFORD visited a Tomorrow's World-style show in London to find out what technology is on offer.

IT was not so many years ago, that heart transplants seemed like the impossible.

So in time to come, being treated by robots in hospital might not feel as strange as it sounds now.

Technology boffins at electrical company Philips are working on a series of hospital ideas which they say may be as little as five years away.

Philips are sure their inventions are not just gimmicks but will actually transform patient care in hospital and that they are “anticipating the needs of tomorrow's society”.

Steve Rusckowski, chief executive officer of Philips Medical Systems, said: “Our customers are typically doctors and nurses that help diagnose and treat people. The complex world of healthcare is becoming more and more complex. Most care providers I speak to every day think about how to create better care for the patients. We are trying to make hospital a more comfortable place.”

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N What would you like to see in hospitals of the future? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

The innovations include:

A high tech ward that switches in an instant from a stark hospital setting into a cosy bedroom. The cubicle curtains are replaced by walls coated in LCD film where people can upload their own images - such as messages from loved ones - and they can even set the lights to suit their chosen sunrise and sunset times.

The theory is that people often spend a long time in hospital and only see the doctor for a short time, and if wards were more comfortable it may speed up patients' recovery.

The LCD wall could also be adapted for medical needs, digitally storing notes which are at the touch of a button available to doctors visiting the room, helping security and privacy. Graphics and illustrations can also be called up by staff to visually explain procedures and diagnosis to patients.

There could be a bed which moves up and down - making it easier to get in and out, easier to clean under and adjustable for when doctors are assessing the patient.

Different lighting modes have been designed for patient relaxation time and doctor assessment times

A sensory blanket, with no wires, can keep a 24-hour check on heartbeat, temperature, hydration and blood pressure.

Transforming the ultrasound scan for pregnant women and their partners.

A spokesman said: “Philips looks to explore opportunities for focusing on the emotional rather than the clinical elements of one of the landmark events in a pregnancy.”

The technology ideas are two fold - to give parents a better understanding of the ultrasound images, and make it more of a couple experience. A specially designed room is designed for the scan sessions - with ultra comfortable surroundings and a two-seater sofa for the couple to 'be close'.

A high-tech fast scanning belt means mum can be scanned sitting up and the images are shown on a tummy-shaped wall, to show exactly how the baby is situated in the womb.

According to the boffins, the 2D images now used widely in ultrasound scans are grainy and unrecognisable. Their answer is sound-accompanied 4D - a 3D image plus the ability to move back and fourth in time to show changes through the pregnancy.

The whole experience is topped off with the use of a bebescope where scans and heartbeats can be uploaded so the parents-to-be can take it home - a modern equivalent of the ultrasound photograph kept by so many parents in a cardboard cover.

Ambient healing space harks back to the idea that patients should feel at home in hospital.

Philips has created a room with sensual lighting, a window where you can choose your own view at the touch of a button and a home video link for keeping in touch with relatives.

A Philips spokesman said: “Imagine a patient room that feels more like a hotel suite than and institutional unit, and where the focus is on comfort and service.”

It has already been used in Chicago in the US as a way of calming nervous children before MRI scans.

Previously, the youngsters were sedated to help them keep still and provide better pictures, which took time and interrupted workflow.

N In the 17th century English physician William Harvey was the first to describe accurately how blood was pumped around the body by the heart.

N In 1818 British obstetrician Dr James Blundell did the first successful transfusion of human blood. He used the patient's husband as a donor, and extracted blood from his arm to transfuse into his wife. In 1840 Samuel Armstrong Lane, aided by Dr Blundell, performed the first successful whole blood transfusion to treat haemophilia.

N The National Health Service was introduced in 1948.

N In the 1950s ultrasound was first used for medical purposes

N The contraceptive pill was introduced in the UK in 1961, but was at first for married women only.

N The first heart transplant was carried out in South Africa in 1967 on 59-year-old road accident victim Louis Washkansky. He died 18 days later after contracting pneumonia as drugs to stop his body rejecting the heart reduced his ability to fight infection.

N In 1978 Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, was born in Manchester.