11 September 2017
It is truly remarkable how much can change in 20 years. In 1996 the Spice Girls released their debut hit ‘Wannabe’, whilst ‘Take That’ announced they were splitting up, Dolly the Sheep was born (the first mammal cloned from an adult cell), DVDs were launched in Japan and only around 4% of the UK population had internet access.
Meanwhile, in Plymouth that same year, the land adjacent to Derriford Hospital, now occupied by the 25 acre campus of Plymouth Science Park which houses over 150 scientific and technological businesses, was just a field. The first resident business was about to arrive.
A small charity called the Diving Diseases Research Centre (DDRC) had been running a hyperbaric chamber facility from a draughty boatshed by the sea at Fort Bovisand near Plymouth since 1980 and they desperately needed to improve their facilities. The hyperbaric chambers were used predominantly to treat SCUBA divers who experienced decompression illness, also known as ‘the bends’.
Understanding of diving and hyperbaric medicine was fast expanding, together with a growing recognition of the potential for using hyperbaric medicine to deliver wider medical benefits to patients with conditions such as chronic non-healing wounds, diabetic foot ulcers or carbon monoxide poisoning.
By 1993, DDRC (now called DDRC Healthcare) had begun a worldwide fundraising campaign to support the construction of a new base in Plymouth, including holding a ‘Global Raffle’ with incredible prizes on offer such as dream holidays to East Africa, the Philippines, Florida, Mexico and the Red Sea, as well as diving equipment and even a RIB boat.
In total over £125,000 was raised for the new DDRC facility and a site adjacent to the Derriford Hospital grounds became the site for the purpose built hyperbaric medical centre to serve the South West of England. This was the first building on what is now a multi-million pound Plymouth Science Park.
By 1996 the two-storey Hyperbaric Medical Centre was ready to open, complete with research laboratory, medical treatment bays, training rooms and offices. Two of the ‘Comex’ hyperbaric chambers were transferred from the old Fort Bovisand site and installed in the new bespoke facility, alongside a large multi-place ‘Krug’ hyperbaric chamber which could take up to 9 patients at once, some of whom could be wheeled in on trolleys or in wheel-chairs.
The unit has since also installed a single user ‘Perry’ mono-place hyperbaric chamber which is particularly useful for patients participating in research trials, or those who have medical conditions which make it more problematic to wear a hood or mask to deliver oxygen in the usual way.
Further businesses were established around DDRC’s Hyperbaric Medical Centre. Initially Tamar Science Park (subsequently re-named Plymouth Science Park) was opened as a joint initiative between Plymouth University and Plymouth City Council, aiming to support economic growth in the region. After the arrival of the Hyperbaric Medical Centre, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre was opened in 1998 offering business workspaces and then in 2004 the Peninsula School of Medicine was built.
Now Plymouth Science Park boasts a joint turnover in the region of £100 million and employs around 800 people in many of the city’s priority economic sectors including Medical and Healthcare, Digital and Creative, and Research and Development. Phase 5 was opened at the end of 2016.
Being located alongside the South West region’s major trauma centre, Derriford Hospital, the Plymouth University Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry(PUPSMD) and within a successful Science Park environment has enabled DDRC Healthcare (the charity which runs the Hyperbaric Medical Centre) to further expand their services and business opportunities both here in the UK and overseas, through two trading subsidiaries. ‘DDRC Wound Care’ provides specialist wound care services to the public and ‘DDRC Professional Services’ delivers medicals, and a wide range of medical and first aid courses targeted primarily to divers, sailors and offshore workers, but also meeting the needs of many other business sectors.
According to DDRC Healthcare Chief Executive, Dr Gary Smerdon,
“Our journey from a leaky boat shed by the sea to a modern medical facility in Plymouth Science Park has enabled us to grow and establish ourselves as a national and international leader in diving and hyperbaric medical research, treatment and education. From here we are now seeing a solid growth in exporting our expertise, particularly in the Middle East region at present. We are continuing to explore new ways to help support delivery of NHS funded patient care services and to identify opportunities to further improve our facilities over the next 20 years.”
What comes next? As the city of Plymouth heads towards a huge celebration for ‘Mayflower 2020’, DDRC Healthcare will be celebrating it’s 40th Anniversary since inception in 1980 in that draughty boat shed.