Linda Nelson, associate dean of enterprise & business engagement
The impact of education and training on our everyday lives is growing every day, but few areas can touch us as personally as our own health. Mike Hughes meets two people who are leading pioneering work at Teesside University.
At the end of December, it will be 50 years since South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant. That was a moment that moved the boundaries of what medicine could do and was the culmination of years of experimenting and researching and a remarkable amount of foresight and innovative thinking.
That same commitment to making new solutions possible continues today in research and development (R&D) establishments around the world with carefully built pathways linking the first proposal to the finished product, and at Teesside University there is a campus-wide drive to use breakthrough techniques and strategies to improve our health and make it more easily understood.
Linda Nelson is one of those innovators helping make the University a pioneer rather than just a producer of graduates. As associate dean (enterprise & business engagement) at the school of health and social care, she is a leading advocate of partnerships built outside the university and the value they can have in developing and testing new practices and sharing experience and knowledge.
She tells BQ: “Our School has a wide range of partnerships which include all the acute NHS trusts in the North East, and the ambulance services as well as many people in the independent sector, such as local hospices and BMI Healthcare, who are the largest provider of private health care in the UK.
“What we do with these partners is vital and often unique. With BMI, for instance, as well as quality monitoring what they deliver we also provide their assistant practitioner apprenticeship nationally to upskill their workforce. The fact that they have confidence in us to deliver national consistency with something so vital, and that we come to their own sites to do so, it is another illustration of the strength of our partnerships.
“There are also research opportunities for both sides, which means that the potential of the collaborations is endless.”
The monitoring and organisational expertise is one of the university’s great strengths and has helped push its reputation well beyond the health sector, with one outstanding example being a best interest assessor award run by Bond Solon, one of the country’s leading legal training companies. This programme develops individuals’ knowledge and skills to work with those who may lack the capacity or freedom to make decisions about their care or treatment.
Bond Solon came to Teesside University for accreditation and monitoring purely based on its reputation for flexibility within partnerships and the quality of its processes.
Back in the health sector, another partnership that the university is particularly proud of is with Health Education North East, who they worked with to develop a nursing associate award. “We are the only organisation in the North East delivering it as part of a national pilot across the country. To achieve that we had to write the programme with our healthcare partners from across the region and get it running within three months,” said Nelson.
The university’s relationships being developed against a background of such high-level expertise show why it is singled out as one of the most business-facing educational institutions and is so highly valued by industry looking for the perfect blend of experience and innovation. They also find that in the university’s masterclasses, where non-accredited training and skills updating can be delivered in short bursts of perhaps just one half-day, often in the practice area and for both the public and private sectors.
“We have such a wide range of work we can do with our partners, but the main attraction for me has always been the people,” says Nelson. “I love it when I get out and about to meet the people we work with, which I do quite a lot because we have to deliver our work with a great deal of flexibility. The days are long gone when training would take place at a set time on a set day. Now we have to fit in with what our partners need to keep their businesses running as efficiently as possible.
“That means we get the chance to be an ambassador for the university, which really enthuses the staff here because every meeting and every challenge is different.”
Getting such a strong personal message across like that can often be lost within large organisations, but not at Teesside University, where more than 80 years of educating people all over the world has been centred on the people they are working with and tailoring delivery just for them.
With such a heritage to build on, Siobhan Fenton’s outstanding skills have found the perfect home at Teesside, pairing a strong and often lifesaving message with the university’s trademark personal touch through her award-winning animation work.
As associate dean (enterprise and business engagement) in the school of computing media and the arts, Fenton works with the medium of animation to make a message more watchable and quickly absorbed, particularly where they involve intimate explorations of personal health. In 2012 she was the producer of Centrefold, a multi-award winning animated documentary about female body image directed by Ellie Land, which was screened at 12 international festivals.
A Teesside graduate herself 23 years ago, Fenton went on to co-found Animex, the university’s renowned animation and games festival, and co-directed the first two years. So her complete immersion in the value of animation has been widely recognised.
“We use animation to engage with an audience and perhaps help them visualise statistics, perhaps about exercise targets. But we also use characters and have a narrative that takes them through a journey which can be very helpful with health subjects,” said Fenton. “If it is a sensitive issue, a voice can make it much easier to relate to a character and makes the message much more powerful.
“With Centrefold, people may have instinctively been judgemental if they had been watching a person speaking, but with animation there are no judgements and the focus can be on the procedures in a sensitive and factual way. For example, we have worked with a doctor from Newcastle University on a film on breech births which was very much about educating and informing. You could just have a leaflet printed, but this is using animation and characters to talk about the choices women have – and how we create the right character is central to our work.
“It is important to find a design that isn’t bland, but is an all-women character that could be from any background. That includes what shape they are and what they are wearing, which doesn’t want to be anything that really stands out. It is a pretty fine line we are walking.”
Always keen to push the boundaries of her work, Fenton is also using virtual reality in health education, making training in essentials like drug administration or surgical procedures much more accessible. She has just completed two projects involving VR, one commissioned by Public Health England about obesity and one for South Tees NHS Trust around prehabilitation – issues that can be dealt with before surgery.
The university has backed this quality of work by setting up an ‘employability studio’ which has started by looking at health issues before moving on to other subjects.
“Working with our partners, we have got our graduates to work on real-life projects, which are linked to the research being done at the university while giving them employability skills that you just couldn’t get anywhere else,” she explains. “They are mentored by expert staff like the studio’s creative director Ellie Land so they know they are in the right hands. It is a really important stepping stone for the graduates to get them out into industry where they can enhance their personal and social skills to add to their amazing talents to make them work-ready.
“It has been lovely to see their confidence growing, but what the studio has also done is to widen their own view of employability and the options open to them.
“We have a massive responsibility for our students and their futures and by supporting them we are helping grow the digital economy, our own local businesses and the regional economy, bringing in SMEs as our partners to work with the other big players and really drive innovation.”
All of this success is also a valuable commercial boost for the University, and the standard of work being carried out there is underlined by the contracts it has won out in the commercial world, where few companies can compete with its depth of skills and experience.
The impact of the university’s work is instinctively regional, of national importance and globally influential, driving innovation and always staying one step ahead of the latest technology. For its staff and students, the past is where so many foundations were laid by genuinely brilliant people.
The present is headline-making, with an unrivalled database of skilled staff and students making breakthrough after breakthrough in any sector that shares their excitement, vision and pride.
And the future? That is where Teesside University really has its focus, as an anchor institution in an ever-developing national economy.
Mike Hughes looks at three ways in which expertise born on the campus is making a huge difference across the country
Health+, a business founded by Charlie Hesse, a second year BA (Hons) graphic design student, has been developed in partnership with South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The innovative app allows patients to scan the labels on their medications and, using character recognition technology, cross-checks their prescriptions with NHS and eMC (electronic Medicines Compendium) databases and informs them about what the drugs are for alongside vital information such as possible side-effects and dosage instructions.
The aim of the app is to give patients greater detail about their medication and improve understanding, reducing the number of enquiries made to GPs.
Another university success story is the PatSim200 patient simulator.
It has been developed by Peterlee-based Rigel Medical (part of the Seaward Group) with the help of Mark Beckwith, a senior lecturer in industrial design in the university’s School of Design, Culture & the Arts.
The PatSim200 puts medical equipment through its paces by mimicking the most common vital signs of patients, such as body temperature, blood pressure, heart-rate and respiration.
On a wider scale, the university has partnered with TWI to form the Healthcare Innovation Centre (HIC) to carry out research that will make a significant impact on people’s lives and wellbeing.
The HIC is already working closely with the South Tees NHS Trust, which is defining clinical needs as well as providing a test bed for the solutions that are developed and will also collaborate with SMEs developing products such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, point of care diagnostics and software applications.
Highlights of Teesside University’s work in health and technology
Working with South Tees NHS Trust
A team of graduate interns have been working at the forefront of digital technology and virtual reality – introducing their skills and knowledge to internal projects and external organisations. The South Tees Project was to design a prehabilitation toolkit made up of an introductory animation and independent website. Aimed at health professionals, the toolkit was designed to assist them in making sure their patients were prepared for any surgery they may undertake, by reducing the risks beforehand of any post-surgical complications.
Working with Northumbria Healthcare
Dave McPhee and Dominic Dunn from Teesside University’s Aurora House Productions, spent ten days shadowing the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust team, led by surgeon Liam Horgan, as it carried out the latest keyhole surgery techniques at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), Tanzania’s busiest hospital.
The pair filmed more than 25 hours of footage which has been edited into the 90 minute documentary looking at the 17-year relationship between Northumbria Healthcare and KCMC. Brenda Longstaff, head of international partnerships at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “Telling the story of our projects at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Tanzania has been a real challenge for the film makers. We are so grateful to Dave and Dominic for their incredible job of capturing the essence of what we do. Sometimes it’s hard viewing but that is the reality. What really matters is that it shows the humanity of what we do, the tears and the triumphs and the pure joy of doing something together that can really make a difference to people’s lives.”
Working with the NHS
Through a pilot Facebook Learning Object (Flo) Teesside University health and social care students have been developing their understanding of, and empathy with, older people with persistent pain. Flo presents the experience of living with persistent pain in the form of a fictitious older (65+) person’s Facebook entries and interactions with Facebook friends over a 12-month period. The storyline (Flo’s story) has been written by a professional scriptwriter, which was informed by information gathered from focus groups of people suffering from persistent pain. The positive shift in student attitudes towards older people has particular relevance following a Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust report highlighting the need for increased care and compassion to patients, particularly older people
Working with the National Horizons Centre
The NHC in Darlington – a hub for digital skills and knowledge in the biologics, biotechnology and health sectors –based alongside the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre and the University campus, will work closely with supply chain companies, digital businesses and academics to develop creative digital solutions to industry challenges.
When its doors open in 2019 it will capitalise on expertise in areas like artificial intelligence, informatics, visualisation and simulation. Academics and students will collaborate with industry partners to develop creative multidisciplinary solutions to business challenges.
Laura Woods, director of academic enterprise at Teesside University, said: “The National Horizons Centre is a major catalyst for growth in the region. Not only is it set to address a current national skills gap, but it will also spearhead the development of new hybrid skills and capabilities that drive the growth of key emergent sectors like biologics. Digital is absolutely central to this hybrid skillset and is instrumental in ensuring the Tees Valley plays a national role in developing the industry sectors of the future.”