New virtual wards for trainee nurses could help ease the pressure on the NHS.
State-of-the-art nursing facilities that include mannequins modelled on real-life children, and dummies that have a pulse, could reduce the hours needed for trainee nurses to interact with real patients on wards.
At the beginning of 2023, the Nursing and Midwifery Council changed their regulations to allow “innovative simulation” for more than a quarter of the 2,300 practice learning hours.
One of the few places in the country providing training with augmented reality and simulation technology is Middlesex University London.
Professor Carmel Clancy, academic dean of faculty of health social care and education, said this type of training allows students to get more practical experience.
She said: “Here they get the chance to be at the front of the bed as opposed to at the back looking on, and they get the chance to have hands-on and practice skills they might not otherwise get a chance to.”
Staffing shortages in the NHS means it can be difficult for employees to have the capacity to supervise trainees, and there is also a finite number of student placements available in NHS trusts.
Prof Clancy added that if more students did their practical training in simulated environments, it would take a load off over-stretched hospitals.
She said: “Post COVID there’s a lot of burnout with our colleagues working clinically, inserting students into that can add extra pressure.
“Giving them an opportunity to rehearse, be in an environment where that stress is not – which these kinds of centres can do – gives them an opportunity to test before they go in there and take some of that strain out of it.”
Students at the facility can be watched from a control room, where instructors use monitors to simulate changes in patients’ health such as an anaphylactic shock.
But concerns have been raised as to whether reducing nurses’ training with real patients could be detrimental.
Dennis Reed, director of campaign group Silver Voices, said: “Virtual reality can never replace unpredictable human reactions.
“When the nurse approaches a patient, they do not know how that patient is going to react.
“That patient could be an ideal patient or that patient could be under the influence and become aggressive. It’s just so random and unpredictable and that will not be taught through virtual reality.”
With applications to study nursing in England dropping by 18% for this coming academic year, Middlesex University says its facility can help recruit more nurses, by making the course environment less intimidating.
It is calling for more investment in similar centres across the country.