Oxford's Covid jab team, robo 'docs' and top brain surgeon up for Sun health gong

Oxford's Covid jab team, robo 'docs' and top brain surgeon up for Sun health gong


THIS year more than ever, our incredible medics and scientists were forced to break the mould.

Dealing with Covid pandemic, our leading healthcare workers were forced to come up with novel ways of working.

There are many who are deserving of this year’s Groundbreaking Pioneer or Discovery award – but these three worthy finalists showcased the best of medical innovation.

The winner will be honoured in a glittering ceremony hosted by Davina McCall later this month.

Here we reveal the top three entries for the gong.

Oxford Covid-19 vaccine team 

IT would end up being a seminal day in the fight against the global pandemic – but for Hannah Robinson it was just another day in the office.

As she worked away on January 4, dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the world to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Who Cares Wins awards

The Who Cares Wins awards honour those who have helped take care of the nation.

Here are the categories:

  • 999 Hero
  • Best Charity
  • Best Doctor
  • Best Midwife
  • Best Nurse
  • Groundbreaking Pioneer
  • Mental Health Hero
  • National Lottery Award
  • Unsung Hero
  • Young Hero

“It was an emotional day,” the clinical delivery lead for the Oxford Vaccine Group admits. “But we were so busy still it felt like a bit of a blur.”

Professor Katie Ewer, a senior immunologist, said: “Vaccines mean nothing unless they’re in people’s arms.

“It’s only when they’re administered they start doing what they’re supposed to, it was brilliant for everyone involved to see the 12 months of work put into the vaccine making a difference.”

Despite being seen as heroes in the eyes of the general public, the two world-beaters are quick to point out the vaccine effort was a team one – and a mammoth one too. 

“It’s not just one person or even a small group,” Prof Ewer admits. 

“The six different laboratory teams, the medical staff, the data cleaning staff, the volunteers who signed up to test the jab in their thousands, the list of people who helped make the vaccine happen is endless.”

Without the genius and dedication of the team at Oxford AstraZeneca we could still be stuck in lockdown with no obvious route of escape.

And Prof Ewer says the Groundbreaking Pioneer nomination means a lot to the team, who worked 60 hours per week at the height of their research.

“The hours were long during the pandemic and developing the vaccine,” she said.

“The Who Cares Wins nomination is such fantastic recognition for the team though, it’s been a very long 18 months and being recognised in such a public way is lovely.”

With Prof Ewer going back to her 13 years of work on a malaria vaccine, the associate professor could end up with more than one hugely successful vaccine on her CV. 

The team has been nominated by Tracey Hemborough, 53, a nurse partner at St Clare's medical centre in Penzance, Cornwall.

She said: “History will judge Professor Gilbert and her team's work as a milestone in global healthcare and we doubt that there will be more worthy winners of this award.

“As a team of Primary Care Clinicians, the introduction of the Oxford vaccine transformed how we've been able to combat the pandemic. 

“The stability and ease of transporting the Oxford vaccine meant we were able to increase the amount of vaccines we could give at our clinics. At the height of the pandemic, our site was delivering over one hundred vaccines per hour.”

Open Bionics

AFTER living for years without her left arm past her elbow, little Phoebe Sinclair has nominated the team behind her “amazing” bionic arm for a Who Cares Wins award.

The Hero Arm is a lightweight and affordable prosthesis for below elbow amputee adults and children aged eight and above.

The team has since worked with Disney to develop a range of covers, featuring designs from Star Wars and Frozen – but Phoebe opted for a bright pink one.

Her father Daniel, 31, said: “About a year ago Phoebe and I were driving and she first asked me about a prosthetic arm.

“She’d never mentioned it until then but she’s so confident with bags of personality and I didn’t want anything to change that so I started searching online and found Open Bionics.”

Joel Gibbard MBE, a robotics expert, and Samantha Payne MBE founded the company in 2013 with the aim to make affordable robotic prostheses available on the NHS to everyone who needs them. 

Within two months from her first appointment, Phoebe, now nine, received her very own Hero Arm.

While there are over 100 components for every model, Joel and Samantha are confident they have some of the best in the business in their team.

“I did a robotics degree at university,” says Joel. “But these guys are so talented and constantly come up with innovative ways to solve challenges.”

For Samantha, 30, who was working in wearable technology before she partnered with Joel, 31, the main aim of Open Bionics and the Hero Arm is to make top of the range prosthetics available for everyone who needs them.

“Some UK clinics charge upwards of £80,000 for a prosthetic that’s not as developed as the Hero Arm, that’s out of most people’s price range,” she says.

“We've partnered with charities, we have donors who donate and we help people access funding so the bionic arms come at little or no cost to them. Our aim is to get the arms available on the NHS ultimately.”

The entire team – based in Bristol – are “delighted” to have been nominated in the Groundbreaking Pioneer or Discovery category.

Joel said: “You get thanks enough seeing people walk out the door with a Hero Arm but being nominated means so much to us all. It takes hundreds of hours and skill to make just one arm and the entire team is delighted to have been nominated.”

The neurosurgery team at King’s College Hospital

FOR Dagmar Turner, the love for her violin ranks just behind the love she has for her family.

So when the prospect of brain surgery to remove a tumour threatened her ability to ever play with her beloved orchestra ever again, her surgeon came up with a novel idea.

Dagmar, a former management consultant, 57, from the Isle of Wight, said: “It was suggested I play the violin during the surgery to make sure the areas I use for playing stay intact.”

Professor Keyoumars Ashken – the surgeon at King’s College London who came up with the plan – has been nominated by Dagmar for a Who Cares Wins award for his world first idea. 

A talented pianist himself, Professor Ashkan wanted to preserve Dagmar’s talent.

Prof Ashken, 53, said: “Having met Dagmar on several occasions before the operation, I knew the importance she placed on being able to play the violin.

“When carrying out neurosurgery, preserving quality of life is one of the main considerations, which is why we decided to have her play during the operation. 

“We wanted to ensure that the delicate area of the brain responsible for the fine movements in her left hand wasn’t damaged during the tumour removal. 

“We’d woken patients mid-operation before to perform language tests so we were confident that given the right planning, we could successfully rouse Dagmar to play violin during her surgery.”

Diagnosed in 2013 with a large slow growing brain tumour after a seizure, Dagmar, who plays for the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, underwent a biopsy and radiotherapy. Checked every few months, at the end of 2019, a scan showed the tumour had started to grow again and surgery became the only option.

The team at King’s College Hospital spent two hours before the surgery carefully mapping Dagmar’s brain to identify areas which became active when she played the violin. 

She said: “The plan was to wake me mid-procedure from the anaesthetic and have me play to ensure surgeons didn’t damage any of the areas I needed to keep playing.

“It was such a novel idea and the team had worked so hard to come up with the idea, I jumped at the chance.’ 

With a passion for music as well as medicine, Professor Ashkan understands Dagmar’s passion.

She said: “I knew how important the violin is to Dagmar as a semi-professional musician, so it was vital we preserved that function. We managed to remove over 90 percent of the tumour, while retaining full function in her left hand.” 

While Dagmar playing the violin during surgery is a world first she put her entire faith in a fellow musician, which is why she believes Professor Ashkan and his team deserve the Groundbreaking Pioneer award. 

She said: “It sounds a strange thing to say but he made the entire experience fun and entertaining, maybe it wasn’t for him or my family, but it was such a novel approach and he completely understood what my music means to me. 

“The thought of losing my music career to save my life would have been so hard to deal with but because he loves the piano like I love the violin, it became a challenge to overcome rather than something I had to sacrifice for my health. I’ll never be able to thank him or the team enough so nominating them for a Who Cares Wins award is my way of saying thank you."


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