Pioneering virtual reality tool being developed to train North West midwives

CLAHRC NWC PhD student Stephanie Heys (pictured, left) is using cutting edge technology to help reduce traumatic birth experiences for disadvantaged and vulnerable women across the North West Coast.  

Her study assesses the feasibility of developing and using a tailored educational programme to improve training for midwives. The training aims to reduce the incidence of birth trauma and PTSD whilst tackling health inequalities for childbearing women with complex needs in Lancashire. A nurse since 2009 and a midwife for the past four years at East Lancashire Hospital Trust, Stephanie is developing a Virtual Reality (VR) programme to train current and future midwives by placing them in virtual scenarios from the women’s point of view. Funded by the National Institute of Health Research this study is part of a call by the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care North West Coast to co-produce and conduct high-quality, leadership enhancing, applied research designed to decrease health inequalities and improve the health of the population.

“It has been great to be doing research while also still working as a Nurse and a midwife, you get a real insight into wider patient perspectives while doing the day job”, says Stephanie.  

Stephanie has devised a clinical scenario of a patient giving birth which has already been filmed by the media team of University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of its web innovation developers.  The sequence of events within the scenario are based on interviews with local socio-economically disadvantaged women who experienced a traumatic birth. This enabled Stephanie to identify contributory factors to birth trauma amongst these women.

“The aim of the VR programme will be to act as an innovative and immersive educational training tool, presenting a real world scenario for midwives. One that promotes critical reflection and provides the NHS with a reformative approach to education delivery whilst benefitting patient care,” adds the 33 year old from Colne.

The script and storyboard have been devised by Stephanie and her supervisor Dr Gill Thomson at the University of Central Lancashire with four professional actors recruited to perform the scenario. The scene will tell the story of a woman during her labour experience incorporating contributory factors to trauma within its narrative. The VR scenario will provide the midwives with a reflective platform upon which to explore interpersonal relationships, current practices and devise agreed ‘practice points’ that will be disseminated back into midwifery teams by participants.

“I am fortunate to have both the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Royal Preston Hospital involved and they’ve agreed to trial the VR training module, once completed, with ten midwives in each trust. Pre and post questionnaires and a 6 week focus group with midwives involved in the training at both trusts will allow me to gauge the benefits and impact the programme has had upon care delivery.“

Stephanie has also discussed the idea with leading VR multinational conglomerate Samsung and is keen to get additional NHS partners involved. Her idea has already been presented at international conferences to health professionals and due to be showcased at various digital festivals this year. Stephanie is also hoping to secure post-doc funding to further develop and expand upon her study in 2019.

Stephanie adds: “Digital technology is getting cheaper and becoming embedded in mainstream care and treatment solutions. It can provide enhanced real world scenarios to ensure staff are well prepared for any eventuality. Being a midwife means I’ve got a good idea of how real scenarios can be coupled with the right questions to ask. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the final product is received by fellow midwives across the North West region.”  


More articles     Posted on: 05 June 2018