Self-lighting surgical instrument made in Sheffield offers bright future for family business

Published 15th March 2013 at 3:28pm

A thriving family business based in Sheffield has created a unique surgical instrument which it hopes will revolutionise medical procedures.

Alan Heeley, managing director of Heeley Surgical Limited, has developed a novel retractor utilising fibre optic technology to remove the need for a separate light source during surgery.

The self-illuminated hand-held surgical retractor, which holds back tissue, can be used in breast, plastic and general surgery. It is single use and disposable and could cut costs.

It can be used by surgeons working in difficult conditions, for example in operating theatre emergencies, accident and emergency units, road accidents, war zones and in veterinary procedures.

The product will be launched in early April and has already attracted significant interest from surgeons in the NHS, private health providers and hospitals in the Middle East

Experts from Creative Sheffield have helped Heeley Surgical to bring the retractor to market and are supporting the company’s expansion.

Heeley Surgical’s new retractor is battery-operated and has an in-built LED light. This gives all the light needed for up to four hours and surgeons do not have to manoeuvre overhead lights or light guide cables which Alan says has always created problems.

Because the retractor is single use, it is supplied sterile where as reusable instruments can take up to two days to sterilise.

Alan said:  “It can potentially cut waiting times for patients and bring savings for the NHS.  Many medical procedures could benefit with a worldwide market in excess of 20 million.

“I still get a buzz out of doing what I do after almost 50 years in the trade. That comes from knowing that products I’ve designed are helping surgeons improve the health and well being of patients.”

The development has only been possible because Alan himself was saved from paralysis by surgeons earlier in his life.

He started his family surgical instrument-making business back in 1977 along with wife Carol but was forced to sell up in 1999 when he needed to have three discs in his neck replaced – the result of a car accident years beforehand.

In 2008, the family firm was resurrected from Thorncliffe Business Park, Chapeltown. Alan and Carol, who is finance director, were joined by son James with his IT expertise. Business has rapidly gone from strength to strength, with turnover doubling over the last two years.

Heeley Surgical produces over 7000 different types of hand-held surgical instruments, the majority of which are single use, made to the same design standards as reusable instruments, but from lower grade stainless steel. Alan’s in-depth knowledge means he can work closely with surgeons to develop new instruments.

The company supplies over 300 customers in the UK and overseas.  These range from large NHS trusts, primary care trusts, private hospitals and Middle Eastern hospitals to self-employed podiatrists.

Heeley Surgical has also developed links with a waste collector which can reclaim around 90 per cent of waste material from single use surgical instruments.

Work is currently being carried out to expand the company’s offices and Alan and Carol’s daughter Louise recently joined on the administrative side.  As sales of the retractor develop, along with other new products, new jobs should be created.

Creative Sheffield’s support to the company has included help to protect the design of the new retractor, and advice on growth strategy and marketing.

Alan said: “The backing of Creative Sheffield has been fantastic and without it we probably wouldn’t have got our patent application in.”

Philippa Hedley, Creative Sheffield’s Sector Growth Manager in Healthcare Technologies, said: “Heeley Surgical offers a unique service based on Alan’s knowledge and expertise.  While the retractor seems like a simple idea, no-one has come up with it before and it goes to prove that we have people here in Sheffield who can be truly innovative.”

Creative Sheffield is part of Sheffield City Council and is the city’s economic development function, with business growth its core activity. It is funded by Sheffield City Council and is a partner in the South Yorkshire Sector Growth Enhancement Programme (SYSGEP) that is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Yorkshire and The Humber ERDF Programme 2007-13.