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HEE hopes virtual reality app will boost prison nurse workforce

HEE hopes virtual reality app will boost prison nurse workforce

Nurses considering taking on roles in adult prison healthcare can now get a feel for the role through a new virtual reality app developed by Health Education England (HEE).

The app, which will be available for download from the HEE e-learning for healthcare hub, provides an overview of working in a prison healthcare setting, including the benefits and challenges, through a series of interviews with a mental health nurse, healthcare officer and GP, alongside five scenarios where nurses must choose the most appropriate response in possible interactions with patients.

Patricia Howe, simulation and immersive technologies programme manager at HEE, said: ‘Immersive learning experiences can play a significant role in helping people considering a placement setting or career change to make an informed decision as to what their new role might look like. The immersive technology of the VR360 app offers the closest possible experience outside a real-life prison environment.

‘We hope that nurses who are interested in a career in a prison healthcare setting find this a useful tool in making their decision.’

It is hoped that this app will support pre-registration and registered nurses who may be interested in pursuing a career in this difficult field.

Deanna Mezen, an advanced clinical practice nurse and palliative care expert at Practice Plus Group who has won a number of awards for work in end-of-life care in prison, said that the project was a ‘brilliant idea’.

‘Prisons are a scary place when you first join the workforce, so I think a virtual tour is a fantastic idea. I think that the virtual reality would help give people an overview of the prison environment and how healthcare can fit into the regime. It would give a good insight into what a typical prison nurses’ day is like, and the roles we undertake, as I don’t think people realise all that we do.

‘When we have had students, they are surprised that prisoners can walk freely around, as they thought prison officers would be everywhere or that prisoners would be shackled and cuffed like in the films. I think an app would help dispel people’s perceptions of prison life.’

E-learning sessions mapped to the five scenarios have also been created to give users a rounded experience of what working in a prison healthcare setting is like and has been developed to map to the NMC Code of Conduct and the NMC proficiency standards for pre-registration nurses and nursing associates.

The sessions can be used on a virtual reality headset; however, this is not necessary. Interested nurses may also use a cardboard headset and their phone to experience the immersive sessions.

Ellie Gordon, national nursing and midwifery directorate at HEE, said: ‘When we started to develop this piece of work, we knew that we wanted to create something that would give student nurses an experience as close to real life as possible, without them going into a prison.

‘We wanted to be able to show students that prison clinic rooms look like any other clinic room, and a prisoner is a person with health needs; it’s just in a different setting. Once you get used to having the headset on and let yourself relax, it is a transformative experience, and you feel as if you have been transported into a prison clinic room.

‘This event needs to be experienced, even if it’s just once. You never know, you might find prison nursing is your new calling.’

In October, Nursing in Practice looked at the demands of delivering healthcare behind bars and the unique complexities of the role of a prison nurse. 

Prison healthcare can be a uniquely challenging environment. The UK prison population is growing and ageing, while prisoners frequently face restrictions in their access to hospital care, with research conducted by the Nuffield Trust finding that almost 45% of all outpatient appointments for women in prison were missed.


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