By Lucy Ashton

Scotland’s first “zero gravity” equipment to help people with walking therapy as they recover from spinal injury, is about to be installed at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The ZeroG Gait and Balance System is a robotic apparatus where a patient is supported during therapy, automatically synchronising with their movements to help them walk and prevent falls. The system supports the patient’s weight on an overhead track which moves with them, allowing them to fully commit to their therapy, in the confidence that ZeroG won’t let them fall.

The ZeroG – which was paid for through charitable donations to the Spinal Injuries Unit – will be installed in the middle of September, and is due to be ready for use at the end of the month, or in early October.

And the significance of the new equipment is not lost on Claire Lincoln, Senior Research Physiotherapist in the unit. “At the Spinal Injuries Unit, we see about 100-120 new patients a year, and at least half of them will require work on standing or walking. This new equipment will be of huge benefit to them.”

Dr Mariel Purcell, Consultant in Spinal Injuries at NHSGGC, was the person who led the push for the new system, and she and Claire Lincoln were instrumental in laying the groundwork for its installation.

Dr Purcell said: “We are delighted that the ZeroG system is about to be installed, and that it will be in use within a few weeks.

“As well as bringing significant benefits for patients, the new system also requires fewer staff to support the patient. Currently, this kind of therapy requires three of four staff, but the new ZeroG only needs one or two.

“This will enable our hard-working colleagues to expand the excellent care they already give.”

As well as being of clinical value, helping current and new patients with spinal ​injuries that restrict their ability to walk or support their own weight, the ZeroG will also be used in international research projects. At the moment, two projects will use the ZeroG.

First, a study on spinal cord stimulation will use this new equipment to deliver walking therapy in significantly paralysed patients in conjunction with spinal cord stimulation to gauge potential benefits in improving neurological function and walking ability, even years after spinal cord injury.

The second study will look at giving acute inpatients the opportunity for 12 hours’ additional therapy a week to try and maximise their recovery in the early stages of spinal injury. This will include sessions with the ZeroG to introduce work on standing and walking activities earlier than would otherwise be possible.

James Meade, Interim Director for Regional Services at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: “The arrival of the ZeroG equipment is a significant step forward for the Spinal Injuries Unit. This is the first machine of its kind in Scotland, and the only ZeroG system in the UK, and as the Spinal Injuries Unit is a national service, the benefits of this new equipment will be felt across the whole of Scotland. It is more positive news for patients who are recovering from spinal injuries.

“I would like to thank in particular those who have kindly made donations to the Unit for the purchase of this equipment, as well as everybody who has worked to get to this point. I look forward to seeing the ZeroG system installed and up and running.”

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