Professor John Grant-Thomson built a Mobile Intensive Care Retrieval Facility — a stretcher with its own power and life-saving features — to bring the hospital to the war zone. His design work has now pivoted to the Neocot — a capsule to safely transport premature newborns in ambulances and aircraft to specialist hospitals.

You started with the MIRF — Mobile Intensive Care Retrieval Facility. Who has used it and how many have you manufactured?

The MIRF was used by the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps personnel deployed to Rwanda in 1994. We manufactured about 10 MIRFs.

And now you manufacture Neocot. How do you describe Neocot to people you meet?

The Neocot is a heated capsule surrounded by monitoring and resuscitation equipment, in which a premature or critically ill newborn is placed so it can be transported under intensive-care conditions, by road or air from its birthplace to a specialist hospital.

The Neocot is a heated capsule surrounded by monitoring and resuscitation equipment, in which a premature or critically ill newborn is placed so it can be transported under intensive-care conditions, by road or air from its birthplace to a specialist hospital.

The Neocot is a heated capsule surrounded by monitoring and resuscitation equipment, in which a premature or critically ill newborn is placed so it can be transported under intensive-care conditions, by road or air from its birthplace to a specialist hospital.

It sounds like from the very beginning you were getting business from overseas. Is this true? How did it come about?

The first Neocots were installed in children’s hospitals in Brisbane and Melbourne. Visiting neonatologists from Norway and Sweden saw these devices and, realising they had a need, set about acquiring them for their countries. I then worked with them to design systems suitable for their hospitals, ambulances and aircraft.

When did you start manufacturing the Neocot?

Following original design work in the faculty of engineering at the University of Southern Queensland, manufacturing the Neocot started in 2000 at Neil Mansell Transport premises in Toowoomba. In 2010 we graduated to a larger Toowoomba factory, Wenross Holdings (BAC Technologies), specialising in fibreglass composites and engineering.

What were the first steps in building the Neocot?

Extensive consultation with neonatologist doctors and nurses in all the Australian hospitals with a neonatal or paediatric unit, analysing their wishes and, through an iterative process, design and manufacture systems to satisfy their requirements.

You manufacture the Neocot in Toowoomba — what’s the best thing about working in regional Queensland?

There is a great sense of community and family, which leads to long-term staff commitment.

What countries have you exported Neocot to?

Currently to Norway and Sweden; however, we’re now receiving strong enquiries from the UK, Germany and the USA.

Where would you like to see the Neocot used?

In all hospitals with neonatal and paediatric departments where infants can be treated for a range of conditions arising from very premature to congenital disorders.

What’s next for your team at Neocot?

We constantly monitor technological advances in medicine which may affect the efficient and effective management of infants, particularly during transport.

Together, following requests from our clinical colleagues, we’ve already introduced nitric oxide therapy during transports and we’re currently exploring the possibility of other therapies which would be a world first.

Congratulations on being a finalist in the Export Awards. What’s been the best thing to come from the Export Awards so far?

Networking with the other companies involved.

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