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Taking the Temperature of the NHS

40 years ago our own Sir Peter Mansfield took a leap into the unknown, the first person to step inside a whole-body MRI scanner so it could be tested on a human subject. This physical embodiment of what the NHS has come to represent since its conception 70 years ago, speaks volumes for its ambition and dedication. As the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, we consider how Nottingham’s medics are preparing for the next 70 years.


The University has long had a strong affinity with healthcare, having one of the largest medical schools in the UK, not to mention the numerous pioneering advancements since which have fundamentally shaped the world in which we live and work. From the extraordinary development of MRI technology to the present day and the £24m investment in the new Biomedical Research Centre, the University has always strived to be at the cutting edge of medical research.

It is fair to say the NHS is continuously evolving, far removed today from the vision of its founder Aneurin Bevan. But what is without question is its position as the envy of the world, transforming the lives of millions and delivering incredible advances in medicine.

But far more than a system and infrastructure, its lifeblood is the staff. And despite calls to “bring back matron” it is clear that the skills and techniques being taught to healthcare students in recent years have transformed the way patients are now cared for.

“The student nurses being trained today are way more competent than I was when I qualified. The skills and teaching our medical students and nurses have acquired after four years of training are far superior,” says Dame Elizabeth Fradd, Vice-Chair of University Council and a nurse practitioner and administrator for over 40 years.

“A continuous flow of staff is needed, rather than a tap being turned on and off. Brexit is likely to have an effect too, as many as 50% of nurses in London are not British.”
Professor John Atherton, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences concurs: “In medicine and other healthcare professions, nowadays we concentrate much more on people skills by bringing in early patient contact. People come into medicine because they want to be with patients and treat people. Transferrable skills are therefore hugely valuable like communication, resilience, how to find information and interact with staff and patients.”

With figures released by the NHS at the start of this year highlighting only one in seven nursing vacancies being filled is there a solution which will ensure the next generation of healthcare professionals is nurtured?

Dame Elizabeth continues: “A continuous flow of staff is needed, rather than a tap being turned on and off. Brexit is likely to have an effect too, as many as 50% of nurses in London are not British.”

Organisational culture and leadership are seen as barometers of the health of an institution and something which she feels within the current NHS hierarchy is in need of more than a sticking plaster.

“There’s a significant problem nationally with leadership. Public health has also become a global issue which needs to be addressed directly, climate change and environmental change are going to impact on the way we train our staff.” 

“On the plus side the NHS is more diverse than it used to be and is conscious of ensuring there are new healthcare professionals from all cultural backgrounds. You can see this on graduation days here at the University. When new graduates cross the stage, it makes me very proud.”

The University is also looking to invest energy to ensure students can receive a more personal experience which, as the Medical School has increased in numbers, has proved more difficult. The intention is to create three localised centres in Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln (which the recently announced University of Nottingham Lincoln Medical School will support).

Likewise, the University’s global outlook provides a key strength for medical students, as virtually all undertake an international placement, which makes them incredibly employable. The recently announced Nottingham-Ningbo initiative is just one example of how the University is continuing to innovate for the benefit of its students and the medical profession as a whole.

“The elective period abroad gives students a fantastic international outlook, which means by the end of their studies they are in high demand from hospitals across the country. We find students from this University do particularly well in later qualifications because of the experiences they’ve gained here,” says Professor Atherton.

 

 We are looking into the crystal ball to see how medicine will develop in 10 or 20 years and training people for it.
But as technology becomes more advanced and complicated will students of the future be creating or adopting it? The University’s Medical School is ensuring students have the relevant transferrable skills and traits to learn new technologies.

Professor Atherton continues: “The training students undertake undoubtedly will continue to broaden, with more transferrable skills, including how to ‘learn’ and absorb new techniques rather than learning facts.”

The £24m Biomedical Research Centre, funded by the National Institute of Health Research is one of the largest investments in translational research outside of London and Oxbridge, and will be a beacon of excellence for the University. The Medical School is also at the forefront of numerous areas of research including imaging, infectious disease treatment, drug targeting and clinical areas like arthritis, gastroenterology and respiratory medicine. It also has perhaps the biggest hearing research facility in the country.

“Medical research at The University over the last 50 years has made a huge difference to society, but now we’re teaching the doctors of tomorrow, which means looking into the crystal ball to see how medicine will develop in 10 or 20 years and training people for it. For example people now have their whole genome sequenced to understand the genetic diseases which may appear in the future. So we give much more teaching in genetics. It may be that at some stage of your life you have a complete image of everything going on in your body – so we are teaching students about cutting-edge imaging.” 

Above all else one thing is clear, the next 70 years of the NHS will depend on the quality, passion and intuition of its staff, something which the University’s medical school will continue to make a valuable contribution towards. As Dame Elizabeth says: “You never know what you’re involved in which is ‘extraordinary’ today and will become ‘ordinary’ in future.”