How this living doll is helping save lives

Director at the Clinical Skills Centre at Sheffield's Hallamshire Hospital Ian Battey with new dummy Hal,  used to train new doctors
Director at the Clinical Skills Centre at Sheffield's Hallamshire Hospital Ian Battey with new dummy Hal, used to train new doctors
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THERE’S a dummy lying on the bed at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

But this isn’t just any dummy.

Known as ‘Hal’, this dummy breathes, bleeds, blinks, shakes, he has seizures and can even change his sex.

But today, Hal’s having a stroke. Gone are the days when medical students practise on bodies or patients. These days, a £50,000 dummy can simulate just about any condition you can imagine.

And his surroundings are as near to a hospital experience as you’ll ever get without seeing any patients.

Directorate Technical Officer of Royal Hallamshire’s Clinical Training Department Ian Battey works with Hal day in, day out, observing medical students as they train for one of the most responsible jobs in existence.

“The dummy can simulate just about anything,” says Ian. “It can simulate the physiological symptoms of cancer – though it can’t show the tumour itself.”

Today, Hal is having a brain scan as a result of a stroke. He sits upright in bed, breathing steadily and blinking.

“With this, it doesn’t matter if students make a mistake because it’s not a real person,” says Ian.

But it’s a far cry from when Ian was a trainee nurse.

“When I did my nurse training, more than 30 years ago, we practised putting cannulas in each other and 10 years ago they would practise on an orange. Now you can get a mannequin to do anything.”

But the expensive dummy isn’t just about treating people practical clinical skills, it also enables tutors and other medical professionals to observe how trainee clinicians react and perform in a stressful situation. And the Clinical Training Department goes to great lengths to recreate ‘live’ scenarios.

“We have a number of actors who come in and act as relatives. We have an admin member of staff who plays a good ‘concerned wife.’ She walks in the room with her shopping, pushes through everyone and says ‘hello dad’. It’s really convincing. We have another actor who plays the ‘irate patient’ and then we have other actors who can just cry at will.”

This impressive spread of acting skills makes the scenarios all the more realistic for the trainee doctors and nurses, though for some it’s harder than others, as Ian explains.

“It does really freak some people out,” he says. “They just can’t deal with the fact it’s a dummy at first but they soon get used to it.”

To make matters more testing, Hal also talks – he is wired-up to a control room, from where Ian and his colleagues speak through Hal.

Ian gives a demonstration. Suddenly, Hal is shouting “I feel like I have an elephant standing on my chest” as he turns blue and enters into a full cardiac arrest.

And as if all this – the concerned wife, the simulated cardiac arrest, the crying relatives and the talking dummy – weren’t enough to create a stressful situation, the students’ performance within the centre is filmed and broadcast in a lecture theatre across the corridor for other students to see.

“The dummy speaks in real time and the whole thing gives a near-real experience of a ward-based environment. It also means that we can look at the way a doctor leads his team, interacts with other staff and is able to prioritise. It is about communication skills and giving the clinicians feedback on how they’re communicating with one another.”

For Ian, communication is key in medicine.

“It doesn’t matter which part of the health profession you are in, everyone benefits from clear communication. Students can develop skills in a safe environment and work with a situation that they may well come across a week later on a ward.”

And all this is possible because of Hal.

“He helps to equip clinicians with the skills they need to go and save lives.”

The technology required for Hal to simulate so many medical conditions is incredible and manufacturer Gaumard has even created a ‘family’ of dummies, with ‘Susie’, the wife, mum, woman, ‘Premie’, the premature baby, ‘Paediatric Hal,’ the child, ‘Newborn’ – another baby and even ‘Combat Hal’, with trauma wounds.

“It took about 40 weeks to create Hal, a week to deliver him and now we’ve grown to be quite fond of him. It’s like having a real person. In fact, we instil in everyone that he is a real person because that’s what he’s here to do – to be treated as if he were real.”