NHS education head virtually visits Cumbria’s only university

NHS education head virtually visits Cumbria’s only university

On a virtual visit to the University of Cumbria, Chair of Health Education England (HEE), Sir David Behan praised the institution for the innovative ways it provides higher education in the North West of England.

Sir David, whose organisation is part of the NHS and works with partners to plan, recruit, educate and train the health workforce, was keen to learn about the university’s teaching innovations and the experiences of students ‘on the ground’.

Sir David Behan Chair of Health Education England (HEE) said:

“It’s been inspiring to see how the University of Cumbria has risen to new and unexpected challenges since the COVID-19 outbreak began, and I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for their perseverance, flexibility and commitment.

“COVID-19 has presented unique challenges for training, including the necessity of clinical placements in a system under pressure and a student experience much different to ever before.

“It is clear that the university is putting a huge amount of work in to provide the best possible experience for students, working collaboratively with partners. They have achieved a lot in a short space of time because they care so much about what they do and the people they support.”

Alison Hampson, Director of the Institute of Health, at the University of Cumbria, led the virtual tour which took place a week before international nurses’ day, and outlined the institute’s response to covid.

She said: “It was an honour to welcome Sir David to our Institute of Health and to show him some of our proudest achievements.

“During the pandemic, we have contributed to Government thinking using our national research into the impact of Covid-19; we have trained retired healthcare professionals to administer the covid vaccination and facilitated students into the covid response workforce.”

“Further to this our institute’s portfolio has grown despite covid and now includes Masters level programmes to become registered nurses and midwives.

“We showed Sir David how we respond to employer needs by developing advanced qualifications such as recent bespoke programmes for our partner NHS Trusts and Cumbria County Council.”

“Apprenticeships are another route offered by the institute. Most recently we launched an innovative paramedic apprenticeship with seven English Ambulance Trusts to upskill their existing workforce in only two years and L6 project management.

“The theme that runs throughout our success is partnership, be that with the NHS and other employers our students or service users, our partnerships help us to be more effective in finding creative solutions to problems that we face.”

Challenges facing the institute were outlined and include high demand for placements limiting the number of students on some courses. Sir David heard of one instance where over 600 applicants applied for just 45 places.

Simulation suite
The tour included a practical demonstration of the simulation suite which HEE helped fund, where radiography and ultrasound students hone their scanning skills.

The virtual reality suite and simulators allow students become familiar with the anatomy in a realistic clinical setting without the need of a patient or volunteer.

Student voice
During the day, Sir David was keen to hear from student voices to understand their views on placements and their education over the past year.

Nina Richardson, 51, is a mature occupational therapy student and career changer, having previously worked as a cinema projectionist then carer, said at times learning online had been a ‘challenge’ but her tutors had been nothing but supportive.

Joe Provoncha, 35, is a first year physiotherapy student who previously had a career in IT but the arrival of his child prompted him to pursue his dream career.

His covid placements were cancelled but he still gained practical experience through simulations. He commended the current mode of blended learning, part online and part in person, as opening up courses to more people.

Future of healthcare education
Sir David rounded off the tour by discussing the future educational landscape which he said would be influenced by technology, saying that the speed of change is likely only to accelerate.

He said the challenge for HEE was to predict the size and skills required of the workforce of the future as the World Health Organisation is predicting an 18 million short fall in trained staff by 2030.

HEE’s focus will be increasing routes into nursing, including blended learning degrees, degree apprenticeships and emerging technology such as simulation training.

 They will invest £15 million in new simulated training facilities and technology so learners can gain additional experience and simulate realistic clinical settings.

And they aim to attract a diverse student population; provide training flexibility through digital and other technology.