Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Monday, 3 November 2008

The baby being used to train medics

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

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Baby Gertrude can move, breathe, cry, cough and gurgle, like a real nine-month-old.

Meet baby Gertrude.

She has been seen by every junior doctor and nurse in paediatrics at St Mary's Hospital, London.

She has had breathing difficulties, meningitis, malaria, head trauma and asthma.

Thankfully baby Gertrude is not real, but a simulated nine-month-old baby used to train medical staff how to deal with a seriously ill baby.

The clever simulation can run a series of conditions to train staff.

Baby Gertrude can move, breathe, cry, cough or gurgle.

Her skin colour can change to blue and even her fontanelle (the soft spot on a baby's head) can bulge and go tense to simulate meningitis.


Collecting data

In the three years since the mobile unit was introduced at St Mary's, which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and Dr Claudine de Munter, who has co-ordinated the programme, believes is starting to show promising results.

She now wants to see the system become compulsory.

Diagnosing a problem

"Historically, simulators have been used in the airline industry and we know there are lots of benefits.

"If this type of training is compulsory for pilots, then it ought to be so in paediatric medicine, where the first hour of care is critical."

When the system was first introduced in 2005 just nine junior doctors were trained once a month, in the simulation centre.

By 2007 this had risen to 38. Simulations were done weekly on the paediatric wards, or in Accident and Emergency.

Dr de Munter said that while other hospitals had simulation units, few had baby models - and that the real difference was the system's mobility.

"Training happens on the wards and not in a simulation suite.

"I bring the simulator to places where people actually work, so the situations are immediate and in context."

Blue in the face

Each training session takes 40 minutes.

When we went to see baby Gertrude she was in the paediatric intensive care unit and her bed was the epicentre of activity.

Machines were beeping frantically, and doctors were huddled round her bed testing her responses and trying to work out what was wrong.

Her breathing was laboured and her skin looked blue

Paediatric registrar Dr Siri Gautam said it was this sort of realism that makes the training so vital.

"It more real and the pressures it puts upon you.

"It improves how you do things in a real situation because all the monitors are there and you can see the baby respond in the correct manner.

"You can put fluids into the child and the monitors respond as if it is really happening, rather than a mannequin that has no responses. When you give drugs things change.



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