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Women & children's / Quality improvement

Touch-free door opening for NHS staff made possible thanks to 3D printed device

By Andrew Sansom 15 Apr 2020 0

A new touch-free invention, designed and prototyped using 3D technologies, is helping one of the UK’s best known children’s hospitals reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, in Liverpool, and 3D LifePrints, a medical 3D printing and technology organisation, have launched a small handheld device that helps staff open and close doors without the need for direct contact. 

Worn by a healthcare professional with space for an ID card, the device, called the Distancer, is fitted with a hook to open door handles and a flat end to push doors open. It allows touch-free movement for staff working in hospitals and other settings, such as industrial and commercial premises, warehouses and offices.

The invention is said to reduce the risk of staff coming into contact with the virus, which can survive on hard surfaces such as door handles for up to 72 hours.

The product was inspired by Alder Hey’s clinical director of innovation, Iain Hennessey, who was motivated to come up with a way to reduce infection risk during the current outbreak. The focus of his work was a solution for opening and closing doors in public places, given that door handles are touched by hundreds of different people a day, and therefore pose a significant contamination risk.  -

Iain, a clinical director and paediatric surgeon, came up with the idea for the Distancer, which was then designed and created by 3D LifePrints, based in Alder Hey’s innovation hub.

“Transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from surfaces like door handles represents a real risk to frontline workers and patients,” said Iain. “The Distancer will help reduce risk of contact transmission and give greater peace of mind to healthcare professionals as they move around hospitals.”

The design process involved several challenges, and a few of the early prototypes lacked the necessary strength. The current product being used, however, is described as very tough and can open all of the doors at the children’s hospital. The product should work with most hospital ID cards, said Iain, but he cautioned that the size of ID cards should be checked and stressed that the device only works with RFID card technology, not systems that use magnetic stripe cards.

The device is at the heart of a campaign calling on all companies to play their part in keeping NHS workers safe at this challenging time. All staff at Alder Hey will be given one of the tools, and there have already been orders placed from NHS trusts and health providers in the UK and New York. 

Iain said the product would continue to be redesigned as necessary, adding: “That is the beauty of the 3D print process – it allows rapid iteration.”

Paul Fotheringham, founder and chief technology officer of 3D LifePrints, commented: “Innovation can be simple yet effective. A hospital-based medical professional in their daily movements can pass through more than 100 doors. Each door or ID access point can be a potential source of viral or bacterial contamination.”

For every Distancer purchased, 3D LifePrints and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital will donate a device to the NHS, helping safeguard a health professional. Contributions are also welcomed to facilitate manufacturing of devices directly for the NHS.

Fotheringham continued: “Never before have so many people wanted to make a difference but for most of us, beyond our own responsible personal behaviour, it’s difficult to know how we can make a significant impact to prevent the spread of the virus. The Distancer campaign offers companies the chance to really make a difference to protect their own employees and help secure the NHS against this incredibly disruptive and dangerous virus.”

The Distancer is available from