When seven first-year nursing students from the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) did a two-week attachment at a nursing home last year, they found the nurses struggling with the patients' laundry.
The four-tier laundry trolleys were cluttered and plastic bags for soiled clothes and bedsheets were tucked at the bottom. To get to the bags, the nurses would have to put the dirty clothes on beds or counters, making it easier for bacteria to spread in the ward.
When the nurses spent time looking for small items such as gloves and cotton wool in the disorganised trolley, this meant they had less time to tend to the elderly, said Mr Abdul Rafi Abdul Rahman, 26, one of the students.
With no clear labels or compartments in the trolley, soiled linen could get mixed with clean ones, increasing the risks of bacteria growth and infections caught from hospital or nursing home stays.
Seeing the dangers the messy trolley posed to patients' health, the team from the nursing programme jointly offered by SIT and the University of Glasgow designed, over two months, a model of a flexible and customisable laundry trolley.
The new trolley, while retaining the structure of the current one, also has multiple slots with removable dividers and planks.
"According to the needs of each nursing home or hospital ward, nurses can use the planks and dividers to compartmentalise the trolley and adjust the dividers to control the size of each compartment," said Ms Joanne Chua, 23, the team's group leader.
Each section of the trolley will be labelled, and four bags for soiled and clean linen and clothes will be attached to both ends of the trolley for easy laundry sorting.
As medical trolleys are hotbeds for the growth and spread of harmful bacteria such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the trolley will be made using copper alloy, a metal that inhibits the growth of pathogens. MRSA infections can cause pneumonia and sepsis, which leads to organ failure.
Existing laundry trolleys are not customisable and few are made of copper alloy, said Ms Chua.
The team won The Mapletree Challenge, a competition for sustainable innovations organised by SIT and supported by Mapletree Investments, last week.
Six teams from various schools in the university vied for the top prize with inventions that included an environmentally friendly way to recycle used tyres and an app that teaches students about revenue management.
During the competition period from last October to this month, they developed their business skills by attending masterclasses on personal branding and a forum on entrepreneurship.
The winning team received $5,000 cash and support to build a prototype of its trolley idea.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor was guest of honour at the competition's prize presentation ceremony last Thursday at Mapletree Business City in Pasir Panjang Road.
Ms Chua said the win was unexpected. "Coming to this competition, we knew that there will be a lot of engineering and business students. Pitching ideas and making innovations are not something we are very good at," she said.
For now, the team has a cardboard model and digital sketch of the trolley, but is aiming to create a prototype of the trolley with SIT's support, she said.
"We are definitely hoping to commercialise the invention because we know its advantages and we hope that nursing homes and hospitals will benefit from the trolley."