University team to work with Welsh Ambulance Service researching VR training for paramedics

A project aiming to provide vital paramedic training through Virtual Reality (VR) has won
‘The Welsh Health Gadget Hack’.

A collaboration between the University of Chester and the Welsh Ambulance Service,
formed during the Hack event, now aims to provide the VR training with an anytime-
anywhere immersive experience for trainee paramedics to practise their skills. The
technology will enable paramedics to both ‘see’ a virtual patient in situ (at the accident scene or in the back of an ambulance) and ‘feel’ the sensation of needle insertions.

The team – called ‘ParaVR’- attended the Hack event in Wrexham recently, which was
organised by the Bevan Commission,  AgorIP  and  MediWales.

Over 50 health and care professionals from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and
Powys Teaching Health Board, and Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust attended the
event, armed with problems they face in their day-to-day work. They then heard from
academics and industry partners who could provide the technological expertise they
needed to make their solutions a reality.

ParaVR made their pitch to the judges in a Dragon’s Den style event, where they were
also able to show a VR demo of the concept. At the end of the pitches, Para VR was
named as their top challenger, with judges noting the clear need from the paramedics,
and the value of NHS-University collaboration.

Professor John said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won! During the networking
part of the Hack, we made contact with Nigel Rees, who is Head of Research and
Innovation at the Wales Ambulance Service. Together with Nigel, a project idea evolved
(which we called ParaVR) to develop skills maintenance tools for paramedics using
affordable off-the-shelf VR equipment. In particular, we will address those life-saving
procedures that are only needed to be carried out rarely (such as needle ricothyroidotomy, which is an incision made through the skin and cricothyroid membrane
to establish an airway during certain life-threatening situations). The Dragons decided
that our idea was the best on the day, recognising a clear need, and a good collaboration
between a university and the NHS. We are very grateful to the Bevan Commission, which
is investing £7,500 in our project idea for further development.”

Nigel Rees, Head of Research and Innovation at the Wales Ambulance Service, added:
“It was great to take part in the hack and even better to be involved in the winning pitch.
There is huge potential in Virtual Reality as a means of training paramedics. It is already
used in the training of surgeons and pilots, for example, and using established technology to bring paramedic training not only bang up to date, but easily accessible, is something I feel passionate about. I’m now very much looking forward to working with the team at the University of Chester to make our hack idea a reality.”