The University of Essex has opened a mock-up hospital ward with robotic patients to help healthcare students prepare for the real world. The new state-of-the-art facilities can simulate patients with a range of medical conditions including sickness, chest infections and heart attacks. Vikki-Jo Scott, head of the School of Health and Social Care has been working on the projects for many months and explained what changes have now been made.

“Previously, we had some facilities but they were university professional so they were just for nursing or just for occupational therapy and didn’t really think about the fact that, for all of our students, at various points in their courses, they will need to have experience of different kinds of environments where they will come across people that then when they qualify, will be working with.”

“So we needed to create learning environments that were relevant to the skills that we trying to learn at the time. What we have now is a ward space, so we’ve recreated a hospital ward because whether you’re a nurse, an occupational therapist, or a speech and language therapist at some point in your training and your career you’re likely to be working with people within the Q care setting.

“We’ve also got a community living space so a recreated flat, so it is meant to simulate someone’s house whereby students can get that experience of trying to think how they would care for someone in their own home and also see how adaptive equipment such as raising kitchen sinks, which we have in the kitchen, can help someone to carry on living in the way they would like to live even when they’ve acquired some form of difference in their life. The flat includes a bedroom, living area, bathroom and kitchen”

“In between these two spaces, we also have an area which is completely flexible. So it’s a room, but it has tables and chairs which can be easily moved to one side, put into groups or into a lecture style. Within that space we also have telephone, computer and electric points hanging from the ceiling so we can use that space for practicing skills looking at web-based materials in groups and also, particularly for our psychological wellbeing practitioners, they do a lot of telephone consultation assessments so it allows us to plug in a bank of telephones and then they can practice.”

“As well as this, we have one room which has no natural light we have a gert suit which simulates having dementia; it has waited elements, reduces eye-sight and recreates a tremor so it was important for us to have a specific place to use this equipment.”

“The reason we need this is because so much of our training is about building up the skills and experience of students so that when they qualify they are fully equipped to work with the clients. There is a big element of health and social care which revolves around simulated practice so to get a student to undergo simulated practice before they are faced with it in the real world means it is a safe environment and, in the scenario, if they do something wrong they will be able to review that and rehearse it so that when they are out in their placements, they have gone through the process of doing it before so it won’t be so scary in the real world.”

The new facilities were formally opened by Professor Graham Underwood, executive dean for science and health at Essex University. Vikki-Jo was also there to show people around the new space and demonstrate how some of the new technology works. She explained how the new equipment differs from other universities.

“A lot of other universities do have facilities for simulated practice but different universities use them in different ways. I think that the thing that is unique for us is this idea that it’s multi-disciplinary a lot of other facilities have focused on either a nursing lab or an occupational therapy lab rather than thinking what are the environments we need for our students to be exposed to which replicates what they are going experience once they are qualified and so the multi-disciplinary nature of it is more unique than other universities.”

On a Monday evenings, the St Johns Ambulance Society at the University uses the space to carry out their training. Ian Brooke Bennett, the President of the society spoke about what the evenings entail.

“Our aim is to promote and awareness of first aid. We do first aid training by creating scenarios of anything from cardiac arrests where CPR is performed to treating a minor injury like a bee sting. We also do more in-depth scenarios where we simulate accidents or emergencies and allow people to, in a realistic training environment, carry out lifesaving first aid activities.”

“The new facilities at the university are fantastic. It is a brand new nursing ward and lab, the lab is really good interactive space. It has a large open space which is brilliant for scenarios and also we are able to use some of the basic mannequins to help us with the first aid training. It’s really great to be in the ward setting as it gets people into the right mind set of learning these skills. It’s also exciting for people who have maybe never been in that environment before.”

“We invite anyone to come and join in on our society evenings, we would never turn anyone away but we do encourage people to join the society if they wish to come on a weekly basis.”

The facilities at the university have been in use since the end of November and the department continues to hope that they will enable students to gain a better understanding of working with patients in the real world.