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Spotting patients’ need sparked my innovation

Nurse innovator Neomi Bennett explains how her compression stockings idea became a viable product that’s making life easier for patients

Nurse innovator Neomi Bennett explains how her compression stockings idea became a viable product that’s making life easier for patients

  • Ms Bennett was a nursing student when she hit on the idea for a product to help patients apply their own pressure stockings
  • She developed her innovation and established a business – and has tips for other nurse innovators
  • Ms Bennett won the Innovations in Your Specialty category at the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019

Neomi Bennett demonstrates to a patient how her invention might make life a little easier.
Picture: Nathan Clarke

While on a placement as a nursing student at Kingston University I noticed patients were not using their prescribed compression stockings. Failure to apply them can increase risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis so it's important that medical aids are easy to use and comfortable. In addition, this represented a waste of resources and an inconvenience to patients and nurses.

RCNi Nurse Awards winner

Neomi Bennett won the Innovations in Your Specialty category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019

I wrote about the issue as part of a risk assessment essay and went on to develop Neo-slip, a low-friction pouch to help solve the problem of applying the tight-fitting stockings.

I was highly commended in the student category of the 2011 RCNi Nurse Awards and at that point Neo-slip was still just an idea. I went on to establish my company Neo-Innovations UK, which has supplied more than 10,000 units in the UK and internationally.

I have seen people’s struggles

As a nurse, I had first-hand experience of the difficulties service users had applying stockings and this was validated with data obtained from patient and nurse focus groups. But without formal business training it has been challenging, and in this respect I have also been learning on the job over the years.

I’ve attended teaching sessions, business seminars and workshops, conferences and networking events. I had to learn about NHS procurement, NHS supply chain and warehousing. I have learned to train staff and support nursing students who join us for work experience.

I learned about manufacturing in my own time and contacted the NHS to learn what I needed to do to make Neo-slip into an authorised medical device product that is easily accessible to patients.

RCN Nurse of the Year 2019: How I changed the way others saw our department

Essential steps in product development

Neo-slip is now approved and regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I have completed the design registration for Neo-slip, as well as the trademark, gained availability via NHS drug tariff (prescription) and, recently, our company achieved accreditation and listing on the NHS Supply Chain. This listing allows all NHS hospitals to order Neo-slip without having to undertake their own due diligence on a product's efficacy and quality.

‘I have been told on several occasions I am wasting my time. I have faced discrimination for being black and for being a woman in a male-dominated arena’

I have developed a website and created processes and systems in the business to ensure the project is fully sustainable and can work without me being there.

Most importantly, we have helped lots of patients to apply their stockings and in the meantime we have built a cohort of patient champions.

Neo-slip is a low friction pouch that fits on the limb before the tight fitting compression, this creates a lubricous/slippery effect which slides the stocking into place and makes putting on stockings as easy as applying socks.


Ms Bennett putting her idea into practice back in 2011. Picture: Christopher Woods

The team at Neo-Innovations UK – Sarah Gonet, Aubi Ozeel and I – are nurses and we support patients postoperatively with stocking application and inform them of the signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis.

Our main role is to ensure Neo-slip is accessible to all those who need help with stocking application, both healthcare professionals and service users. Our office duties include customer service, administration and accounts.

All the winners from the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019

Discrimination I have faced

Challenges have been enormous and frequent. From the beginning, many people told me a nurse could never take a product to market, and some hospitals refused to engage with our services.

I have been told on several occasions I am wasting my time. I have faced discrimination for being black and for being a woman in a male-dominated arena. In boardrooms, as soon as they know I’m a nurse they tell me all their problems.

I have been advised to get a white man to front for us but feel that does a disservice to nurses. I am so proud to be a nurse and to develop something for patients. I want to inspire other nurses.

One challenge was in collecting evidence of the effectiveness of Neo-slip – a huge barrier when trying to engage with large NHS hospitals. I overcame this by successfully applying for a Florence Nightingale Scholarship, which enabled us to carry out a clinical audit.

My business innovation advice to nurses 


As well as establishing herself as a nurse, Neomi Bennett has had to learn how to run
a business. Picture: Nathan Clarke

  • Use your setting Being a nursing student during the start-up phase was the perfect environment because I was surrounded by nurses and lecturers. Having access to patient volunteers enabled me to facilitate focus groups and our first clinical audit
  • Establish intellectual property I was not employed by a hospital organisation so was able to incorporate the product’s intellectual property – which prevents an idea from being copied by others – into our nurse-led enterprise. However, nurses who have an idea they would like to develop may wish to work with a company to introduce or develop a new product idea, and this could provide the nurse with an opportunity to develop and own part of the intellectual property
  • Include patients in the testing phase For Neo-slip, this raised awareness and started the marketing process
  • Use your networks Through my nursing networks, I was able to access decision-makers in procurement and matrons who have buying power
  • Surround yourself with supportive people You will receive some negative feedback in the beginning, which can be very disheartening and at times you might want to give up. You can get through this by surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded people and creating a team
  • Focus on your goal Remembering how you are helping your patients will inspire you and get you through the tougher times. Taking a product to market has been very difficult, with many challenges, but patient feedback (especially from older people) led me to persevere

 

Patient feedback

Patients' views on their care are an essential component in assessing the quality of our product. We measure patient outcomes using patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs). This provides a clinically relevant and scientifically rigorous resource, which also includes the patient perspective in the subsequent evaluation.

‘I have had to develop as a newly qualified nurse at the same time as maturing as a businesswoman’

Finances have also been an issue, as I have expanded the company organically without external investment. All revenue generated by the company is reinvested to sustain and grow the business.

On a personal level, being a single mother has presented a challenge and I have had to change my way of thinking to keep pushing myself for the benefit of patients.


Outside London South Bank University, where Ms Bennett is now a fellow. Picture: Nathan Clarke

Looking to the future

After five years of determination, use of Neo-slip use has increased rapidly and it is currently being used in 34 private hospitals, as well as a number of NHS hospitals and pharmacies. Patients can order them direct from our website and from Boots nationwide for next-day delivery.

We have plans to grow and disseminate the product across the UK and more recently we have supplied Neo-slip to nursing homes in France. Our company will continue to grow and expand. We have recently started a new partnership with Johnson and Johnson and we have funded trials in France, Belgium and Holland.

Personal and professional growth

Last year, I received an honour – a British Empire Medal – from the Queen for innovation and contribution to healthcare. This year I am proud to be in the first cohort of nurses accepted on to the NHS England clinical entrepreneur training programme.

I have taken on a post at London South Bank University as a nurse fellow in entrepreneurship and in this role I teach nurses about change and finding solutions in the healthcare environment.

I invented the Neo-slip in my final year of nurse training and I have had to develop as a newly qualified nurse on the bank. At the same time, I've had to mature as a businesswoman in order to set up new accounts, manage, run and grow the business.

Now I will continue to develop my nursing career and the business.


Further information

NHS England clinical entrepreneur training programme

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