Funding competition SBRI: automated pre-cleaning of surgical instruments

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £150,000 to develop automated solutions that will improve the pre-cleaning of surgical instruments.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


The aim of this competition is to find an automated solution to the pre-cleaning of surgical instruments as part of the NHS sterile services process.

We are looking for a range of solutions that are technically innovative and good value for money. Proposals must show how projects would develop and test a prototype.

This is a 2-phase competition. The first phase will be a feasibility study. Applicants who are successful will be able to apply to take part in phase 2, developing prototypes and evaluating them. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1.

Funding type


Project size

In phase 1 we expect projects to range in size up to total costs of £30,000. They can last up to 6 months. Projects are expected to start in August 2018.

Who can apply

To lead a project, you must:

  • be an organisation, of any size
  • work alone or with others (businesses, research base or third sector)
  • be able to test your solution in NHS Highland (NHSH) or other Scottish NHS health boards


We have allocated up to £150,000, including VAT, to fund innovative feasibility study projects in phase 1 of this competition.

Projects will be 100% funded.

At least 50% of the contract value should be exclusively and directly assigned for research and development (R&D) services. R&D can cover the exploration and design of your solution. It can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. R&D does not include:

  • commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Your proposal

The NHS is being supported in this competition by the Can Do Innovation Challenge Fund. The aim of this competition is to find a solution for automated pre-cleaning of surgical instruments. The solution must include:
  • pre-soaking, to prevent contamination from drying onto surfaces
  • internal flushing, so chemicals can be delivered into the internal channels of instruments
  • coarse contamination-removal mechanisms, ideally ultrasonics or a spray function
  • automated chemical dosing for pre-soaking or internal flushing
  • fully programmable pre-cleaning steps
  • measurement and monitoring facilities to check the solution’s performance
  • integration with automated washers or washer-disinfectors
The solution would ideally be one piece of equipment. It must:
  • reduce costs and be good value for money
  • connect with existing NHS systems, which may be behind commercial systems
  • be quick and easy to operate, without needing complex programming
  • demonstrate an active contribution to a reduction of waste matter and chemicals entering the waste water system
  • comply with all relevant legislation
  • fit with the requirements of the NSS 2016 document
The solution will be classed as a medical device because of the functions it fulfils. It must meet the requirements of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), but it is not clear whether solutions will be Class 1 or Class 2. Make sure you know where the definitions apply as this will affect the price of the solution and determine the route needed to earn a CE mark.
In phase 1 you will develop a tool or service as part of the feasibility study.
Your proposal should include:
  • details of how you plan to carry out the project
  • a breakdown of your proposed costs
  • a plan for the development of the solution in phase 2 and its potential use by the NHS
If your proposal is successful, we will expect you to work with the NHS to:
  • support the development of the solution
  • support the user experience
  • check the solution works as expected
We will choose suppliers for each project through an open competition process. You will keep the intellectual property rights (IPR) generated from the project. The NHS will keep some rights of use.

Project types

Phase 1: technical feasibility

Projects should last up to 6 months and be completed by 28 February 2019. They can range in size up to a total cost of £30,000, including VAT. The total funding available is up to £150,000, including VAT.

Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation

Projects should last up to 12 months. They can range in size up to a total cost of £150,000, including VAT. The total funding available is up to £300,000, including VAT.

In phase 1 the supplier will work closely with the NHS and other stakeholders to develop an automated solution. The outcome of this project will be a proposed prototype of the solution.

In phase 2 the project will be:

  • the development of the prototype
  • testing
  • stakeholder engagement
  • evaluation of the acceptability of the proposed solution

You should estimate costs of the final product for the NHS and provide a developed plan for commercialisation and entry into NHS procurement.

Projects we will not fund

In this competition we are not funding projects covering:

  • main cleaning
  • the pre-cleaning or cleaning of non-surgical instruments
  • manual pre-cleaning solutions

5 March 2018
Competition opens
18 April 2018
Briefing event.
9 May 2018 12:00pm
Registration closes
16 May 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
31 July 2018
Applicants notified
31 August 2018
Phase 1 contracts awarded.
31 August 2018
Feedback provided by this date.

Before you start

To apply:

  • the lead applicant must register online (the link will be available once the competition has opened). Please note that you must complete a separate registration for each proposal submitted
  • read the invitation to tender, which will be available for you to download from our secure site after registration
  • attend the briefing event for potential applicants on 18 April 2018
  • complete and upload your online application for phase 1. You must complete a separate form for each innovation proposed

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

A panel of selected experts will assess the quality of your application. We will then choose the best proposals from those that meet the aims of this competition.

Also, please read the guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a successful application.

Guidance for applicants

Please view the guidance and application questions for this competition.

Background and further information

All NHS trusts and boards in the UK, and all hospitals and other institutions carrying our surgical procedures globally, need to pre-clean surgical instruments within the sterile services process.

The current automated pre-cleaning solutions focus on one specific area such as neurological surgery. They are not designed for a range of instruments. There is a market opportunity for a company to design an automated pre-cleaner that improves the process for a range of instruments. This will reduce clinical, health and safety and environmental concerns, improve efficiency and reduce costs.

A solution to this challenge is vital if clinical outcomes are to be improved. Surgical procedures use ever more complex and small-scale, or robotic, instruments. All of these need to achieve cleanliness to above and beyond the required standard. This to reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as CJD.

Existing procedures within the NHS meet the standard, but generally rely on manual pre-cleaning. These:

  • may not achieve the required standard consistently
  • have health and safety implications for NHS employees
  • use high volumes of water
  • generate contaminated water
  • risk water pollution

The NHS is working to improve its procedures, but it does not have the capacity or background to develop solutions based on design and engineering. This competition aims to use the expertise of SMEs in the UK commercial sector to develop a solution. This will allow all healthcare providers who carry out surgical procedures, to pre-clean beyond the existing highest standards. This will create processes to work for new instruments in the future.

By providing funding for feasibility studies we can remove the risk from the development of prototypes.

About SBRI competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. SBRI supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services. It does this through the public procurement of research and development (R&D). SBRI generates new business opportunities for companies and provides a route to market for their ideas. It also bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies.

Further help and information

You can find information on how to enter this competition in the invitation to tender document, which is available for download on our secure site after registration.

Questions related to the particular requirements of this competition should be addressed directly to Frances Hines (

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network or Scottish Enterprise.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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