A Brief History

A Brief History

The Edinburgh service officially began on 4th May 1963 as the Powered Prosthetics Unit with Dr (later Professor) David Simpson as its first director. Its remit was to design and provide upper limb prostheses for the children born with limb abnormalities as a result of the drug Thalidomide. By 1967, the unit was located at the Princess Margaret Rose (PMR) Orthopaedic Hospital and was renamed the Orthopaedic Bio-Engineering Unit. In 1969, the unit moved into the purpose-build Bio-Engineering Centre and took its name from its new building. The hyphen was subsequently discarded around the mid-1980s.

By the 1980s, the service was beginning to accumulate a significant number of patients with a broad range of unusual or complex physical disabilities who began to look to the service for their ongoing care. As a result of this, in 1987 the decision was made to emphasise patient service activities by formalising referral procedures and further developing working relationships with referral sources.

In 1988, the service became part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Service Lothian Area service that also included Prosthetics, Orthotics and Mobility. PMR Orthopaedic Hospital closed in 2002. By that time the renamed Rehabilitation Engineering Service (RES) consisted of only Bioengineering and Prosthetics.

The service relocated to the purpose-built Southeast Mobility & Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) Centre, Astley Ainslie Hospital, in 2006 after spending the intervening period at the now closed Eastern General Hospital, Edinburgh. Bioengineering is now part of the SMART Services.

The purpose of the service was neatly summed up in its Annual Report for 1986:

“To respond to the problems of patients where adequate solutions are not available within the existing routine clinical services. This may relate to the lack of particular knowledge about their condition and its management or the lack of a suitable device to alleviate their disability‚Ķ The ultimate objective of all our activities is the improvement of clinical services and our service to the disabled.”

At the very start there was little in the way of off-shelf equipment and most of what the service provided was designed and build in its own workshops. It was soon recognised that some its equipment had the potential to be developed commercially and so benefit a wider and larger group of patients. As a consequence, over the years numerous devices have been commercialised to varying degrees of success. Examples include the:

  • Simpson-Edinburgh airbed
  • PMR hand
  • Arrow Walker
  • Rennie-Edinburgh wheelchair harness
  • Edinburgh Modular Arm System.

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Selected Further Reading

Kenworthy G, Simpson DC
The provision of a service in rehabilitation engineering.
Biomedical Engineering 1974;9(11):515-6.

Meadows CB.
Bioengineering in Edinburgh.
Journal of Medical Engineering & Technology 1993:17(5):182-183.

Farley R.
The Special Needs Design Service in Edinburgh.
British Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation 2000;7(9):394-398.

Simpson A, Gow D.
David Simpson: A life in science.
Scope 2006;15(4):42-45.

Dolan MJ.
The redesign of the clinical delivery model of a regional seating service.
Posture and Mobility 2009;26(2):15-18.

Dolan M, Walsh J.
Risk management and rehabilitation engineering: Common issues in an uncommon area of work.
Scope 2011;Sept:22-27.

Dolan M, Gow D.
Half a century of clinical bioengineering in Edinburgh.
Scope 2013;June:11-17.

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Written & compiled by Dr Michael J Dolan, SMART Centre, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh.

First published 15th March 2013. Last updated 23rd June 2014. Version 1.1.

NHS Lothian's Southeast Scotland Mobility & Assistive Technology Centre