3rd May 2017
It all started with a simple idea for a micro-straw. Now Naomi Campbell is a hydration nurse specialist and is the founder and Innovation Director at Simple Measures, a public interest company set up to improve hydration across all areas of health and social care.
It was at home where the idea first came to Naomi Campbell. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner,” she remarked. She was watching her daughter play hands free with a toy made of plastic strands. Her daughter was using a single strand (about a metre in length) as a drinking straw to get a flow of water just by sucking very gently, while lying down in bed. Naomi had a go, and instantly knew this simple concept could be developed to create an entirely new type of drinking aid.
Five years previously Naomi, a nurse, had been caring for her sick mother. She had taken a number of months off to look after her around the clock with the help of her family. “Even with one-to-one care 24 hours a day, mum would still get dehydrated.” Preventing dehydration is an epidemic problem in elderly care. According to recent figures, one in five people coming into hospital are under-hydrated. This has a massive impact on resources as it is often the root cause of acute admissions to hospital due to urine infections, falls and confusion and acute kidney injury which is now known to cost the health service more than breast, skin, and lung cancer combined. Following the experience with her mum, Naomi worried that nurses and carers on busy wards would find it very hard to adequately support and monitor patients’ hydration intake. It was a concern that stayed with her, laying dormant until that moment when she saw her daughter sucking on the toy straw. From that day Naomi knew she wanted to focus her energy on solving the problem of poor hydration in hospitals, care homes and the community.
Naomi set about developing new ideas to help improve basic hydration care and gained funding from her then employer Peninsula Community Health, to help support her ideas and ultimately create a unique new nursing innovation role. She also spoke to relevant ‘innovation’ groups to help develop her ideas into practice. The first product Naomi brought to test phase was a new hydration risk assessment tool with a simple ‘traffic light’ drinks coaster system. The coloured coasters would act as a visual aid for nurses and carers alike. The simple idea indicates how capable the patient is at hydrating themselves… green being independent, amber signifying some help needed, and red signalling full support needed from a carer. The initial trials of the coasters were a huge success. Nurses on a busy ward could quickly glance at a patient and check their hydration status. This gave Naomi the confidence to trial her next product… a mug that had a measuring device inside it. “A lot of the time frail elderly patients take just a few sips of their tea or coffee and that would be it.” This mug allows carers to more accurately measure the amount drunk, before then throwing the rest away. These products, although very simple were proving to be a hit with frontline nurses, care staff, patients and their families.
Back in 2010, Naomi secured a Regional Innovation Fund of £15,000 and with support from NHS Innovations Southwest she continued to develop the design of her new drinking aid known as the ‘micro-straw’. On December 25th 2013, her micro-straw was officially granted a UK patent. Since that light bulb moment back in her daughter’s bedroom in 2009 Naomi has become the ‘go to’ person for hydration. After developing the first drinking risk assessment tool based on ‘reliance on a carer’ in 2011, she was asked to join hydration work stream groups with the Care Quality Commission and the Department of Health, and was also asked to contribute to a large fluid management study, as well as being invited to write a number of articles for nursing journals. Naomi was also part of a parliamentary forum based at the House of Lords to raise awareness about hydration. She said, “There is a fine line between passion and obsession and for the past six years I feel I have been constantly operating within that space.” She is now the founder and Innovation Director at Simple Measures, a new community interest company established in October 2016, that allows her to focus her time on improving hydration care across all areas of health and social care.
Simple Measures is now working closely with frontline care providers, researchers, educators, manufacturers and product designers to help develop simple, cost-effective ways to improve basic hydration care. She said, “Simple Measures now has a clear focus on delivering a bespoke training programme focused entirely on basic but fundamental hydration care, and I am absolutely thrilled we are developing our current and new products.” Dehydration is a global problem and the company is already linking with people in the UK, Europe, America and Australia. Naomi also firmly believes the ‘micro-straw’ – which triggered her passion for improving hydration, has massive potential to support humanitarian, life saving, oral rehydration therapy for children, as it is widely known that acute dehydration caused by diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old.
An idea that started in a small village six years ago has culminated in the formation of a new company dedicated to preventing ‘avoidable’ dehydration. One that can now start to tackle a global problem, through education and simple cost-effective products that will improve and save the lives of countless vulnerable people of all ages. Furthermore it will highlight the vital role of frontline carers across the world who every day make great efforts to assist and encourage people to drink enough to remain adequately hydrated.