Pioneering work at two North East universities is helping change healthcare training across the country.

A Newcastle project investing in state-of-the-art facilities and technology has been held up as an example of how the NHS can meet recruitment targets, and a new £36.9m building at Teesside has been specifically designed to support future healthcare and medical professionals.

Newcastle University has delivered a series of long-term projects designed to widen access to study subjects that can lead to careers in clinical settings.

Universities UK has said schemes like those employed by institutions in the North East are crucial if the country is to meet the objectives of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan (LTWP), which was published in June to address staffing shortages across three key pillars, train, retrain and reform.

One way Newcastle University is training the next generation of dentists and dental therapists is by adopting virtual reality (VR) enabled haptic dental simulators.

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This innovation uses the Virteasy V2 Dental Simulator powered by the Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, which brings lifelike simulation to clinical scenarios.

The haptic element, which relates to the sense of touch and calculates the force required for users to feel the object, provides real-time feedback of cutting through different dental tissue and is capable of replicating dental implant placement.

The haptic suite will be a core part of Newcastle’s new £5.5m dental clinical skills facilities, which will be opening in 2024. Haptic simulation training supplements the traditional approach by providing unlimited opportunities for procedural rehearsal and training, while enhancing patient safety.

Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor and President of Newcastle University, said: “With the right conditions, universities like ours can provide the talent, expertise and technology needed for the NHS to thrive for decades to come.”

Teesside University has just completed a new £36.9m health and medical building, BIOS, specifically designed to support the training of future healthcare and medical professionals.

The four-storey building houses laboratories and innovative learning environments for science and clinical subjects and will provide a step change for health provision at Teesside.

The Northern Echo: Inside BIOSInside BIOS (Image: Press release)

The state-of-the-art facilities include digital anatomy facilities, an oral health research laboratory, a replica operating theatre and a fully immersive simulation suite, enabling students to work in a range of settings, from hospitals to sports arenas.

Professor Paul Croney OBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Teesside University, said: “Health inequalities, including a lack of access to healthcare, make a considerable impact on not simply the health of individuals, but the health of our regional economy. It is imperative that this is rebalanced and, as an anchor institution, Teesside is firmly focused on addressing the challenges experienced within our region.

“BIOS, our cutting-edge science, health and medical building has recently opened and will play a key role in supporting the region’s NHS workforce. I am also proud to confirm our strategic intent to further growing our health, clinical and medical offer at Teesside University, and to make a firm commitment to delivering the NHS workforce of the future. BIOS underpins this ambition and demonstrates the scale of our commitment to transforming lives and economies.”

Despite the work being done by universities in the region to contribute to the NHS’ plan, UUK says a number of challenges still need to be overcome to meet its objectives and prevent the talent pipeline from drying up. This includes a need for higher education to expand health education capacity, and for a culture shift to take place within the NHS to place more value on students and educators.

Concern about the NHS is now the public’s second biggest worry according to recent Ipsos research, while research also shows people’s top priorities for the health service are expanding and supporting the NHS workforce. The plan’s success however, hinges on a joint endeavour between education and healthcare providers, with universities both educating the next generation of healthcare professionals, and driving innovation that can improve health outcomes.

UUK is setting out a five-point plan to meet the objectives of the LTWP and support future and existing talent, including in the North East:

  •  Boosting student recruitment
  • Increasing the numbers of educators
  •  Investing in new facilities and infrastructure including new technologies
  • Increasing placement capacity
  • Improving learner experience and reducing attrition