University of Northampton sets example of how to meet NHS recruitment targets

A Northampton project committed to investing in new facilities and technologies has been held up as an example of how the NHS can meet recruitment targets.
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The University of Northampton 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 this employed by institutions in the East Midlands 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.

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One of the University of Northampton’s initiatives has developed simulation-based learning experiences using high-fidelity interactive mannequins, providing students with hands on opportunities to develop their midwifery skills. Students have provided care for Maya, a wireless birthing mannequin to practice skills such as complex emergency management.

The University of NorthamptonThe University of Northampton
The University of Northampton

Maya can be voiced remotely and provides a realistic birthing experience for students to gain supervised practice to bring lessons to life. It also allows students to visualise the birth using AR, viewing the 'fetal journey' through Maya’s abdomen using HoloLens goggles. With Baby Ellen, a wireless high-fidelity newborn, students experience neonatal assessment and resuscitation, enhancing the realism of the experience.

Dr Jacob Saranga, Dean of the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at University of Northampton, said: “The learning experience for our health and social care students at our university is swiftly evolving to keep at pace with the Higher Education sector, embedding clinical simulation opportunities that incorporate virtual and augmented reality teaching technologies. We are investing in clinical simulation that is making their class-based learning as ‘close to reality’ as possible, as ‘Maya’ is doing for our Midwifery cohorts.

“We fully support the recommendations made by Universities UK to transform healthcare education in this country. With the right conditions, universities like ours can provide the required workforce, expertise and technology needed for the NHS to thrive for decades to come.”

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Another example of where universities in the East Midlands are driving innovative research and training comes from the University of Leicester, as it strives to make waves within the health research space. The role empathy plays in helping to improve patient satisfaction and reduce pain is at the heart of a new healthcare research centre at the university. The Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare’s mission is to improve patients’ lives by pioneering a robust new approach to medical education and training that positions empathy at the heart of healthcare, fostering health and care services that are fit for the future.

Launched in April 2023, the centre is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to provide the NHS with the most empathetic and resilient junior doctors possible.

Jeremy Howick, Professor of Empathic Healthcare at the University of Leicester and Director of the Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare, said: “The Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Healthcare’s mission is to improve patients’ lives by pioneering a robust new approach to medical education and training that puts empathy at the heart of healthcare.

“Through our bold plans and transformative vision, our goal is to provide the entire NHS with the most empathic, compassionate and resilient junior doctors possible, and we have already started to do this within Leicester. Our research evidence and partnerships will guide and support the practice and structure of empathic healthcare in the UK and internationally, so the NHS has the workforce it needs to prosper for many years to come.”

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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 East Midlands:

· Boosting student recruitment

o With applications to nursing, midwifery and allied health professional (AHP) courses declining, UUK is calling on government for a major national recruitment campaign produced in partnership with universities, colleges, schools and the NHS.

· Increasing the numbers of educators

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o Shortages in clinical academic and teaching staff is a limiting factor for expansion. Currently 50% of healthcare educators are over 50 years old. An urgent review is needed of educator roles and careers, to attract different kinds of staff into roles. A cultural shift is also needed within the NHS towards students and educators to make space for them and ensure they feel valued.

· Investing in new facilities and infrastructure including new technologies

o Expanding capacity to boost learner numbers will require extending university and college facilities as well as opening new schools. This means additional teaching space, flexible space and exam facilities. There are opportunities to extend capacity through learning technology such as immersive environments, simulation and robotics, all of which requires capital investment.

· Increasing placement capacity

o The availability, quality and distribution of placements must continue to be a focus for government, the NHS and universities and colleges. Closer working between the NHS in England and universities is required to diversify placement capacity in community settings such as care homes and schools, as well as increasing hospital placements.

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· Improving learner experience and reducing attrition.

o Many health courses experience high rates of attrition that continue into early careers. Common factors include cost of living pressures and travel and accommodation expenses. Additional wellbeing and mental health support, more regular check-ins, better coaching and mentoring support is necessary. Financial support should be inflation linked and students from low-income families should receive more help.

Higher education’s role in the delivery of the LTWP includes innovative approaches to education and training to identify future skills gaps, recruiting from more diverse communities, introducing new routes into the profession, new clinical roles and advances in technology.

Boosting the number of staff employed by the NHS in England from approximately 1.5 million in 2022 to around 2.4 million in 2036–37 is also a key ambition. By 2036-37, the objective is that almost half (49%) of public sector workers will work for the NHS, comprising one in 11 (9%) of all workers in England, compared with one in 17 (6%) in 2021–22.

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To develop a well-staffed and efficient NHS, the UK Government must work closely with universities to fund the plan over the next 15 years, spanning both general elections and spending reviews.

Professor Alistair Fitt, Universities UK’s health policy lead, and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, said:

“With political consensus on the need to significantly increase the number of healthcare professionals over the coming years, now is a pivotal moment to protect the future of the NHS in England.

“To develop a well-staffed and efficient NHS, the UK Government must work closely with universities to fund the plan over the next 15 years, spanning general elections and spending reviews. We must take bold decisions to ensure the conditions are right for universities to train staff adequately, including on funding and capital investment, staffing and student recruitment.

Forthe government’s ambitions for our national health service to come to fruition requires a step change in healthcare education.”