Safer delivery

A plastic version of obstetric forceps that connect to a computer through a flexible cable look set to save the lives of babies.

Traditional forceps used to assist with the delivery of babies have been linked to death and long-term damage. Hence, many mothers-to-be are opting for often unnecessary forms of assisted childbirth, such as Caesarean sections.

Now, however, it is hoped that the development of a new design of forceps will restore confidence and transform how instrumental deliveries are perceived.

The company behind the new Safeceps product is PRO Medical Innovations (PMI), a spin-out venture of the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC).

Recent graduate Dale Harper is heading up the development of the Safeceps, which he first started working on as part of his undergraduate degree course at the university.

Harper, who has since been appointed at UWIC’s National Centre for Product Design and Development Research (PDR), said that the Safeceps device will protect babies against excess trauma, brain damage or death.

The Safeceps are a plastic version of obstetric forceps that connect to a computer through a flexible cable. When in use, the Safeceps measure the key forces being exerted upon the foetal head and present this information through a computer screen with the option of audible warning sounds. The system can be integrated into existing maternal computer systems and be customised to meet the needs of individual users.

‘The design of current forceps have not really evolved in centuries and if the obstetrician pulls too hard with the current instrument during birth, it can kill the child in extreme cases, while even normal use causes facial damage and trauma. These cases have left mothers very fearful and clinicians are now more aware that failure to achieve a successful instrumental delivery is one of the important factors in the rise in Caesarean section rates,’ said Harper.

‘Obstetricians want the tool they use to be safe, reliable and give certainty in what they are doing. They want to know that nobody is going to come back and sue in five years time, as obstetricians have been taken to court in the past over damage caused during a forceps delivery. Because our instrument takes a record of the force used, it mitigates that risk against the obstetrician, but in no way takes responsibility away,’ he added.

Recent graduate Dale Harper is heading up the development of the Safeceps

PMI was formed in March 2008 and strategically chose to partner with UWIC to develop the idea. In the 10 months since its conception, PMI has been runner up in a national business plan competition and was awarded £10,000. It is now in a position to see the Safeceps fully commercialised and taken to market.

As the purpose of the Safeceps is to save lives around the world, Harper already has ideas in place to eventually launch them in African and Eastern European countries as non-computerised, mechanical versions.