Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 07:29 UK

Mannequin making medicine safer

By Luisa Baldini
BBC News correspondent


Dr Jonathan Smart demonstrates the mannequin in action

If you have ever done a first aid course, the chances are you have been intimate with Resusci Anne.

Launched in 1960 to solve the problem of how to practice life like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, she has been nick-named "the most kissed girl in the world" and to put it plainly, she is getting on a bit.

More sophisticated mannequins have been manufactured in recent years and Resusci Anne's creators Laerdal have now brought out SimMan 3G, the next generation of simulator, able to mimic an array of medical complications.

He has a pulse, he can cough and wheeze, his eyes can water, his jaws can lock and his body can breathe and convulse.

Those are just the visible features but he can also simulate breathing complications, cardiac arrests and reactions to drugs.

Cardiac arrest

At a training session, nursing lecturer Emma Winterman gives Sim Man the name "Sally" so that she can communicate with the mannequin as she would do a real patient.

British Airways:
3,200 pilots
14 high-fidelity simulators
NHS in England:
34,00 consultants
47,000 doctors in training
Fewer than 20 high-fidelity simulators

In an observation room, her colleagues use a microphone enabling Sally to speak.

The computer is programmed and when Sally goes into cardiac arrest, Emma reacts by administering CPR.

"As a qualified nurse it enables me to keep up to date and practice my skills to ensure I'm delivering safe patient care," she said.

"And, in my role as a nurse educator, it allowed me to find out all the functions of the simulator to help train the nurses of the future."

The importance of medical simulators is highlighted in this year's Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer for England.

Flying safer

Sir Liam Donaldson points out that when a person is admitted to hospital, their risk of dying or being seriously harmed by medical error, is one in 300.

Students practising on the mannequin
Health workers honing their skills on the mannequin

When a person steps on a plane, their risk of dying in an air crash, is one in 10 million, thanks to the regular simulation training undertaken by pilots.

His conclusion is that that simulation reduces errors and that it should be fully integrated and funded for clinicians.

Sir Liam says that while some NHS organisations have started to take a more organised approach to simulation, it is generally regarded as a useful add-on rather than a compulsory and core part of training.

The report points out that furthermore, too great a burden is placed on individuals to fund such training themselves.

Dr Meng Aw-Yong, medical adviser for St John Ambulance, is among those who believes hi-tech mannequins can make a real difference.

He said: "The SimMan mannequin would be beneficial to healthcare professionals by allowing them to carry out more complicated medical therapies in a safe learning environment."

However, he stressed that for most people learning first aid a standard mannequin on which they could practice chest compression and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was sufficient.

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