Driving surgical innovations: an interview with Duncan Light

23 Jun 2023 4min read

Team Consulting

Company update

Following the UK Government’s recent announcement of a £650 million investment to promote growth in the life sciences, the NHS is currently seeing a positive trend towards new innovations. We sat down with Duncan Light, Consultant Surgeon in Northumbria NHS Trust, to get his views on the current state of surgical innovation in the UK.

photo of duncan light

Duncan Light has been a consultant surgeon in the NHS since 2018, having completed his training in the North East and Edinburgh. His specific areas of interest include minimal access surgery and hernia surgery. Beyond his work in the operating theatre, he is passionate about supporting new technologies for improving patient safety and surgical practices.

What are some of the common challenges around surgical innovation?

“One of the common problems in the NHS is a siloed mindset. There are often small clusters where innovation occurs, but on the whole the healthcare system is not good at spreading this around and sharing good practice. Progress is being made to address this, with a number of innovation networks helping to facilitate the sharing of ideas. Organisations such as the NIHR, SPRI and Innovate UK are also offering support to entrepreneurs to realise their concepts.

The main thing I’ve noticed that helps drive innovation is good communication and networking. There are many people in the NHS with innovative ideas who may not be aware of others around them who share the same views. By expanding our network and finding other people in a similar thought space, it’s amazing how things can progress from one conversation to another.”

Why is it important to involve surgeons in the development of surgical tools?

“It is well known that there is a high rate of start-up failure. One of the key reasons for this is that clinicians are not involved in the process at an early stage, to give a practical opinion on utility. It is critical for clinicians to be involved in the process of developing the tools they will be using and equally important to have a network to facilitate this. The NHS clinical entrepreneurs programme for example is a great source of networking for clinicians, allowing them to meet with start-ups and feed in their ideas and views.”

photo of surgical tools on table

What has your experience been of reviewing new technologies for surgery?

“My first exposure to new technology being developed for surgery was a disposable scope for endoscopic procedures. The reusable scopes being used were often not very durable and meant that patients had to have two procedures. I was introduced to a disposable scope which proved to have equivalent clinical results to the current reusable technology. The tool meant that patients no longer needed two separate procedures, with the ability to carry out a single procedure using the disposable technology. It was because of this that I could really see the potential for this tool to be used more widely across the NHS.”

What are your views on surgical robotics?

“What strikes me about the development of surgical robotics is the sharp contrast between Europe and the US. In the US, it’s not uncommon for some surgeons to start charting up over 1,000 cases involving robotic systems. In the UK, we are still 5-10 years behind the US, although the area is expanding very rapidly. We need to maintain some vigilance around the technology, balancing enthusiasm with what it can achieve with the day to day needs of surgery.

That being said, I do think it offers a lot of benefits, a key one being improved ergonomics, something that can lead to significant injuries for surgeons using the traditional routes. Despite this, in my opinion there are still some potential ergonomic issues with the current robotic systems in use as well, with surgeons forced to hunch over a console. My hope for the future is that manufacturers continue to focus on improving the ergonomics of these robotic tools.”

photo of surgeons using tools example of poor ergonomics

Duncan returned to Team Consulting this June for our clinical innovation event, where our experts supported clinician innovators to address their clinical challenges through developing MedTech concepts. Sign up to our newsletter to hear about our other upcoming events and stay up to date with our latest surgical news.

Join the conversation

Looking for industry insights? Click below to get our opinions and thoughts into the world of
medical devices and healthcare.