Adopting new approaches to training in the NHS could benefit staff and patients, argues Nick Napper

We have all been there: it is Friday afternoon, the speaker is on their 25th slide, and we are losing the will to live. So why is so much training in the NHS based around the visual display of text? Up and down the country, healthcare professionals are sitting in classrooms being read aloud to under the guise of "teaching".

While every NHS trust has inspiring teachers and trainers who regularly use a wide range of methods to bring learning to life, it seems they are a minority, regarded as being naturally gifted and creative. Does this mean other trainers do not care?

Driving change

At Musgrove Park Hospital, we do care. We cared enough to put together a learning experience last August which helped save two people's lives.

At the session, there was no reading aloud, no hiding behind lecterns, no one saying they were sorry they had not had time to prepare many slides. We simply used teaching and influencing methods that have been in existence for centuries: stories, simple images, a sense of belonging, humour and emotion. The session did what it set out to: saved two lives.

For a month after the training, there was no MRSA in the hospital for the first time in five years. In the months that followed, we reduced MRSA dramatically, increased early C difficile isolation and minimised broad spectrum antibiotic use.

So why isn't all NHS training this effective? Why don't NHS staff look forward to teaching sessions as much as they do their favourite television programme?

Planning and testing

Take the award-winning BBC series Life on Mars. The programme's makers cared enough to spend many hours researching, planning and honing it to create a top-quality experience. Why don't all health service teachers do the same thing for their learners? Most good teachers and trainers are not unusually gifted; they doggedly plan, research, worry, test and hone everything.

Perhaps part of the problem rests with teacher training. Courses such as the diploma in teaching in the lifelong learning sector provide an enormous amount of stimulation, reflection and self-development for many emerging teachers. But a Learning and Skills Development Agency-commissioned report in 2003 uncovered a disturbing gap between theory and practice among newly qualified adult education teachers.

There is a huge array of learning theories available to a newcomer to teaching, many of which are hotly contested. While they provide interesting material for the master's level student, they may be impenetrable for the newcomer who simply wants to know what works.

Help for teachers

In recent years, teacher training has moved on, notably with the creation of regional centres for excellence in teacher training. These groups bring together further education colleges and local employers to provide support for trainee teachers in the workplace and improve the link between theory and practice. A large number of NHS staff undertake initial teacher training each year, yet out of more than 300 trusts only two are currently members of centres of excellence.

The NHS is probably the biggest collection of empathetic communicators in the world and we should be contributing to the teacher training agenda for the learning and skills sector, not sitting on the outside. Opportunities exist to involve our best trainers as mentors for trainee teachers. We can provide excellent support for new teachers and trainers which further education cannot easily supply. But it will not happen if we stay on the sidelines.

Surely we can do something better than reading aloud?