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'I made an executive decision to stop giving her the medicine'

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Paul Watson is a school nurse by day but a superhero to his family.

The nurse saved a life six years ago. That may not be extraordinary for a nurse but the life he saved was that of one of his two daughters.

Katherine was diagnosed with asthma aged six months, and had been using inhalers since. When she was five, she became very ill.

“In my job, I’d seen sick children a lot,” said Mr Watson. “But never one as sick as this. She was blue.”

Rushing her into hospital, he was greeted by staff who advised him she needed more medication and kept telling him to double the dose.

“I’d have advised the same thing had I been in their shoes,” he said. “But something in me told me that wasn’t the case. It looked like an extreme allergic reaction to me.”

It was. “I made an executive decision to stop giving her the medicine that night. And the symptoms stopped right then,” he said.

It turned out that Katherine was not taking her medication properly. It was getting stuck in the back of her throat, which had caused the allergic reaction.

Most children use inhalers with spacers. It became clear to Mr Watson that this was not ensuring the right dose was being taken. So, in 2005, just after Katherine’s reaction, he decided to create something to tackle this.

After an hour and a half in his shed, he had the solution: the Pocketflow spacer. The is a collapsible, pocket-sized unit, overcoming one of the biggest problems with spacers - the difficulty of carrying them. He hopes that the Pocketflow will increase compliance and reduce hospital admissions.

The product is 105mm long when opened, and 30.5mm when collapsed. It has a maximum diameter of 57mm, and a volume of approximately 150ml. When the Pocketflow is collapsed, the body of the chamber concertinas into the headpiece and the mouthpart is pushed down into the internal space to protect it from damage.

Mr Watson has invented several items - a £5 digital stethoscope that seems to work as well as a £300 model, baby weighing scales and scopes for eyes and ears - but this is the first to make it into commercial production.

Pocketflow has been through rigorous testing and commercial trials, and is due to go on sale in late 2011, produced by ViVO Smart Medical Devices.

“What is gratifying is that, after extensive computer modelling and rigorous tests, the end product is remarkably similar in terms of design to the one I emerged from my garden shed with,” he said.

“I am not as involved with it now that ViVO have the licence for it. But they still ring me up and ask me about certain things, and that’s pleasing.”

He attributes the commercial success to Health Enterprise East, which secured funding for research and development.

“I did think about going on Dragons’ Den,” he says. “But I am someone who has ideas rather than business plans. And my ideas aren’t even that ingenious - they are just simple twists on ideas that may already exist.

“I see a problem, and my mind wanders off and immediately starts trying to find the solution.”

Having worked in retail, engineering and manufacturing, he feels that he has a greater commercial sense than most nurses.

He says: “Even as a store manager, I watched people, and that’s where most of my inventions come from.

“I wanted to have a career in the military or the police, and was a special constable for a while, but I ended up in nursing. And I am glad.

“I don’t think I could have invented the Pocketflow if I hadn’t had that commercial experience, and I think coming to nursing later gave me more insight.”

It’s that insight he hopes to use in future. “I speak to the [ViVO] chief executive every couple of months about my ideas,” he says. “And I’d love to be involved in an innovation hub for the NHS.

“I see so much waste and it is frustrating when I know I have ideas that could save money and make a difference.”

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