Pictured above: left to right, Dennis kent (Carlton Laser & Lord Stafford awards Judge), Cathy Topping and Peter McLeod (De Montfort University)
A former Nottingham midwife who had to retire due to bad knees is looking to revolutionise the way the nursing profession works thanks to the launch of a unique seating solution.
Cathy Topping, who had been helping to deliver babies for more than 30 years, has joined forces with De Montfort University to successfully develop and bring to market the ‘Topping Chair’ – a breakthrough that promises to reduce osteoarthritis, improve performance and save the NHS millions through reduced sickness and health and safety claims.
The impact of this novel design is already causing a stir in the medical profession and has seen the local entrepreneur make it through to the finals of the ‘Innovation in Development’ category of the Lord Stafford Awards, which is designed to recognise collaboration between businesses and universities.
“It’s been a long hard process taking it from a simple idea born out of frustration to where we are now with a working prototype that is ready to go into mass production,” explained Cathy, who has invested more than £25,000 of her own money into the project.
“I know from personal experience how painful constant kneeling can become and more than 2 million people each year visit their GP because of osteoarthritis, many of whom work as midwife or in trades such as carpentry, plumbing and mining.”
She went on to add: “Naturally being a midwife for so many years, I wanted to find a solution for this sector first so I could help make a difference to my colleagues. I researched the marketplace and whilst there were some alternatives, they were all very costly and offered very little mobility. I knew I could do better.”
Working in partnership with Nottingham University first and then later with De Montfort on commercialisation, Cathy has benefited from expert assistance from the very outset and she firmly believes this has helped to give the concept a level of credibility.
The Topping Chair, which is currently being manufactured by Birmingham-based KCR Composites, has a number of unique features that make it an essential item of equipment in maternity units all over the world.
Its lifting mechanism has four levels of operation (from 230mm to 460mm) and enables the user to work comfortably and for prolonged periods of time at a low level without kneeling or squatting awkwardly.
All material that goes into the products can be recycled and the fact it can be folded away easily means it is simple to transport it from A to B.
Adapting the model for different purposes is also easy to achieve and each Topping Chair can be custom-made with new colours and designs if working for children for example.
“Based purely on midwifery alone, I’ve got a 33,500 strong market to go at in the UK and this I believe is a big opportunity,” explained Cathy, who applied for an international patent in 2006.
“We are currently looking to talk to a number of local NHS Trusts, who may be keen to try the Topping Chair out in a real working environment. If we can secure this and get good feedback, then we will be ready to formalise an agreement with a manufacturer who can start mass-production.
“The medical profession is one of a number of areas we can target and I’m sure that the building and educational arenas could easily find a use for my product.”
Peter McLeod, Innovation Manager at De Montfort University, added his support:
“One of our roles is to help inventors bring their ideas to market and this is exactly what we have done with Cathy.
“De Montfort University benefits from collaboration with inventors and what we learn in the process can be transferred back into educating future entrepreneurs. There is also a great deal of personal satisfaction in being involved in a project that could improve the working lives of midwives and financially benefit the NHS.”
Backed by the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA), MAS East Midlands, the East Midlands Universities Association and Lincolnshire County Council, the Lord Stafford Awards are designed to celebrate and recognise innovative collaborations between business and universities.
The winners of the awards, which cover ‘Innovation Achieved’, ‘Innovation in Development’ and ‘Innovation in Sustainability’, will be announced at a high-profile finale on September 10th at the Epic Centre in Lincolnshire.
Other sponsors for the event include Ceramic Decals, CFE Ltd, Clever Cherry, Connect Midlands, Enterprise Europe Network and Swindell and Pearson.
Cathy concluded: “Winning the Lord Stafford Award would give us an excellent opportunity to secure more funding that could be used to pilot research in the US. I’m sure it would also open a few doors with the NHS!”