Ultrasound training boosted by 'revolutionary' simulator
A virtual reality training simulator could significantly increase the availability of ultrasound scanning worldwide, according to experts.
The ScanTrainer, invented by Cardiff University, is designed to train staff quickly and cheaply.
Using 3D imaging, it gives trainees the sensation of scanning a real patient.
It comes as the Society and College of Radiographers warns a shortage of sonographers is leading to "severe difficulties" for UK hospitals.
The simulator has taken 10 years to develop and more than 100 have already been installed at hospitals in 11 countries.
"It's an innovative, revolutionary, world class training simulator, made in Wales," said Prof Nazar Amso from Cardiff's School of Medicine.
"Back in 2004, we realised that there's a big barrier to the training of sonographers, not enough trainers and not enough time and opportunity for trainees to engage with patients.
"Lack of sonographers is a global problem, especially in the developing world where they're practically non-existent. So this device is going to change the availability of ultrasound worldwide."
Figures for November 2013 showed the number of patients waiting longer than they should for diagnostic services in Wales had trebled in the last two years.
Dr Catherine Bradshaw, who is studying for a masters degree, used the simulator and said: "It's incredibly lifelike and realistic."
'Pressure on service'
In 2009, the Society and College of Radiographers warned sonographers in training were "barely keeping up" and there was little scope for increased training activity.
Its national officer for Wales Kevin Tucker said: "If you look at waiting times now, it would seem to indicate we still have a problem with the number of sonographers in Wales and across the UK.
"I think health boards do the best they can, they realise the pressure the ultrasound service is under but it often comes down to money."
Last month, the Welsh government announced a £5m investment into reducing waiting times for diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound scanning, it has also helped fund the development of the new simulator.