The importance of ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion in hospital and primary care training

Written by Rob Waterson, Dean of the School of Health, Sport & Bioscience, University of East London.

In the ever-evolving landscape of the NHS and its workforce, ensuring students are equipped with the necessary skills to make effective clinical decisions in diverse communities in a safe and controlled environment is key. 

The £4 million state-of-the-art Hospital and Primary Care Training Hub opened at the University of East London in March 2022 to ensure students are career-ready upon graduating. Learning spaces within the Hub include a mock A+E department, ambulance, a general ward, an intensive care unit and a flat to imitate an at-home environment. These are all used for role-play activities and scenario-based learning through simulation. The tech in these spaces includes two SimMan 3G Plus, high-tech patient simulator mannequins, who are able to display neurological as well as physiological symptoms including sweating and crying.  

The simulation suite hosts the latest in augmented and virtual reality equipment (AR/VR) so UEL healthcare students are immersed in and able to rehearse real-world scenarios and role play in a full clinical setting.  

Hospital bed with dummy.

Nursing and physician associate students use the technology for many different scenarios, such as sepsis, haemorrhages and brain trauma, heart attacks, blood clots on the lung, collapsed lungs, psychosis, asthma attacks and falls of pregnant women.  

We are very excited that from September 2023, a child birth simulator will be used by Midwifery students. The Lucina childbirth mannequin offers human-like vital signs and responses for practice of both normal labour and delivery scenarios and obstetrical emergencies. Baby Luna is uniquely designed for comprehensive training to practice and gain proficiency in newborn assessment and resuscitation and advanced life support.  

Hospital simulation suite with pregnant dummy.

Our diversity-first approach at UEL 

UEL has a  careers-first learning approach, which also tackles health inequalities and means the healthcare sector can be supplied with practice-ready professionals fully prepared for an ever-evolving landscape. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is incredibly important to our values, mission and civic duty in Newham, as we have a very diverse local population. Mannequins with different skin tones reflect the population the students will go on to serve so they can recognise conditions on different skin colours, and Venepuncture arms from different ethnic backgrounds are used for cannulation and injections. 

Our students themselves are diverse too, and identify as 29.5% White, 22.3% Asian, 21% Black, 3.7% mixed heritage and 12.4% ‘Other’. A central goal of our Vision 2028 strategy is to increase the diversity of the talent pipeline. 57 per cent of our students are the first in their family to go to university, and we want everyone, regardless of background, to have the chance to become leaders, contributors to society and agents for change. 

Supporting our students’ mental health 

With UEL’s high number of Black and Global Ethnic Majority, mature and working class students – the most at-risk and under-represented groups in higher education – the impact of the economic climate also falls disproportionately on our students. This results in a much larger financial burden than students at other universities, and will impact on their mental health, further exacerbating rates of progression, retention, and graduate outcomes.Recognising that the cost-of-living crisis creates student needs particularly for these student groups in other areas, such as mental health and time available for study, we have supplemented our hardship funding and bursaries, and have introduced additional support such as free breakfasts, free essential products, grocery bags, free access to sports facilities and a student pantry.  

In December 2022, the University of East London became one of only five universities in the UK to be granted the Mental Health Charter Award. This Charter provides a framework for higher education institutions (HEIs) to embed mental health provision across their organisations and includes duties in relation to support teams such as financial advice services. 

As well as our learning programmes, our academic research also aims to drive change and have impact in our communities in East London where health inequalities are very prominent.  

Helping communities in East London 

Tower Hamlets residents have fewer good years of health than almost anywhere else in the country, and UEL is part of a new £5 million project on research into health inequalities in the borough. Working with other partners including Tower Hamlets Council and Queen Mary University of London, the research will examine the wider causes of health inequalities. 

We know that some groups are more likely to be affected by things like poverty, overcrowding and health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, but a solid research system is needed to help us understand how policy decisions can make a real-life change. The project is designed to enable local authorities to become more research-enabled, embedding a culture of evidence-based decision making. 

Through our engagement with the NHS and local communities, the hub works to tackle the health inequalities evidenced in the communities we serve. Through this we can review what alternative models of training can be achieved to support the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. 

In light of the plan, we are starting a portfolio review to help the NHS realise its ambitious plans and will be exploring new courses such as International Nursing as part of that, as well as how to further tackle health inequalities through our teaching.