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Health board takes delivery of premature baby simulator

The baby can be controlled from a laptop to test nurses on a range of health scenarios.

A neonatal unit in Fife is first in the UK to take delivery of a premature baby simulator.

Known as Paul, he's one of only 40 in use around the world, and is packed with technology which allows him to mimic many of the health problems pre-term babies can experience.

Nurses at Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy have been training on him for several months.

"Up until now we've been working with a doll, so using baby Paul was a bit surreal at first," said neonatal nurse Caroline MacFarlane.

"He can do lots of things, he can change colour, stop breathing, have a different breathing pattern, we can listen into his chest and hear his heart sounds.

"He will react so when we are working with him you will see a reaction on the screens and that's really good feedback when you're training."

Engineered in Austria, Paul is around the size of a 27-week-old baby, measuring only 35cm long and weighing less than 1kg.

His anatomy has been modelled on real-life scans and his features fine-tuned by special effects experts from the film industry.

Simulator: Baby 'Paul' was engineered in Austria.
Simulator: Baby 'Paul' was engineered in Austria. STV

During training sessions, his condition is remotely controlled from a laptop, so nurses can be tested on a variety of health scenarios.

"It's very difficult looking after premature babies and if you can practise on something safely, away from an actual patient, then we have a better chance of getting the skills right when you have a patient," explained Dr Sean Ainsworth, consultant neonatologist.

"Putting breathing tubes in, putting drips in, things like that, and also by working as a team, the staff are working more cohesively.

"I think there's every chance it will improve not only survival rates, but in terms of less disabilities as well."

Paul couldn't be funded by the NHS as the training device isn't regarded as strategic equipment, so neonatal staff at Victoria Hospital raised almost £60,000 to buy him.

Their efforts included a trek to Everest's base camp, with some funding also coming from the hospital's endowment reserves.

Funding: Staff raised almost £60,000 to buy him.
Funding: Staff raised almost £60,000 to buy him. STV

With around one in ten babies born prematurely, nurses believe having the chance to train on a life-like device will improve the care of their most vulnerable patients.

Penelope Low, born on December 9, at 28 weeks, is currently being looked after in the Victoria's special care baby unit, with her parents Tina and David by her side.

"It's such an amazing idea, that they can have a simulator to practise and train on," said Tina.

"You can see the staff are well trained, just being here day-to-day," added David.

"Any slight incident and they're across straight away. If she's unsettled they can work something out."

Paul's arrival will also help babies beyond Fife, as he's to be loaned out to neonatal units across Scotland and the north of England.

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