Ulster University launches test centre to meet growing demands for nurses across the UK

Ulster University is continuing to support the vital transformation of Northern Ireland’s healthcare system by launching its new Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Competence Test Centre at Ulster University’s Magee campus, which aims to meet the growing demands for overseas nurses and midwives wishing to work in UK.

Nurses and midwives registered outside of the EU/EEA are required to undergo stringent procedures before they can practice in the UK. This involves successfully taking a two-part test of competence. The first part of the test is computer-based and can be taken anywhere in the world. If successful, applicants can then take the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) at a UK test centre.

Situated at the University’s Magee campus, as part of the School of Nursing, the new purpose-built, designated test centre will deliver the objective, structured clinical examination (OSCE), which tests applicants’ skills, knowledge and behaviours in a simulated practice environment.

The test centre at Ulster University is one of just three in the UK and the only centre in Northern Ireland. It joins similar centres in Oxford Brookes University and University of Northampton.

All non-EU/EEA registered nurses recruited directly by the Trusts will be required to go through the Test Centre at Magee before they can practice. With no waiting lists currently in place, Ulster University can bring our much-needed registered nurses recruited overseas through the centre immediately and ensure that they are all promptly allocated to clinical practice and patient care.

The new test centre, which has the potential to test 45 candidates per week will help to increase nursing capacity in UK, allowing a greater choice of location and shorter waiting times for overseas nurses and midwives wanting to sit the test.

The new Competence Test Centre facility at Magee Campus also serves the Independent Sector in enabling overseas nurses recruited to work in the Nursing Home sector to undertake the OSCE ‎in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the opening of the new test centre, Professor Charlotte McArdle, Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland, stated:

“We are actively addressing the nursing staffing issue on a number of levels, including the recruitment of 622 overseas nurses by 2020. The new Nursing and Midwifery Council Competence Test Centre at Ulster University will ensure that any oversees nurses who apply to work within the trusts each year have gained professional registration and that they are fit to practice in the UK at the required standard.

“We recognise the invaluable contribution that nurses educated outside the EU and EEA make and the key role they play in the UK’s health and care workforce, but it is vital that they possess the correct skills and qualifications required.”

Professor Carol Curran, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences, also said:

“We are delighted that Ulster University is one of just three universities in the UK selected to offer such a vital service. This new test centre demonstrates the commitment of the University and the Department to strengthening and enhancing the healthcare workforce.

“Located at our Magee campus, the centre builds on our delivery of our nursing education provision and stratified medicine in the city. Alongside innovations such as our Physician Associate Course, our School of Nursing and our allied health profession courses, this test centre is a further opportunity to make a tangible impact on the pressing challenges and demands of our health service.

“Across our own skilled and committed nursing graduates and the nurses who will gain their registration through this centre, our Magee campus makes a valuable and rewarding contribution to nursing care.”

Lynn Fee, HSC International Recruitment Nursing Lead / Assistant Director of Nursing at Southern Health and Social Care Trust, also stated:

“The new test centre in Ulster University’s Magee campus is vital to ensure that the nurses educated outside the EU and EEA who wish to join our register can sit the test in a timely way, assisting overall in the direct intervention of healthcare workforce challenges in Northern Ireland.

“The current project to recruit overseas nurses for the HSC follows a regional approach. Nurses must pass through the NMC Competence Test Centre before they can practice and, once registered, are placed into the points of greatest need within the Healthcare System to best serve our community.”

For further information on Ulster University’s NMC competence test centre, visit https://www.ulster.ac.uk/faculties/life-and-health-sciences/nmc-competence-test-centre.

Ulster University is to establish a Centre for Personalised Medicine, Clinical Decision Making and Patient Safety which aims to dramatically improve clinical decision-making and tailored patient care in five priority disease areas.

Professor Tony Bjourson, Professor of Genomics at Ulster University

Professor Tony Bjourson, Professor of Genomics at Ulster University

The research project, which will be a cross-border collaboration between the academic, clinical and commercial sectors, will focus on heart disease, emergency surgery, acute kidney injury, diabetes and dementia.

The EU’s INTERREG VA programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, has offered Ulster University €8.6 million of funding for the Centre which will have an overall cost of €9.89 million. It is one of three Ulster University research projects to have secured funding as part of a recent €23 million SEUPB funding round.

The centre’s research will improve the health of tens of thousands of patients and help cut healthcare costs dramatically in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and internationally.

Personalised medicine, also known as precision or stratified medicine, is a move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the treatment and care of patients with a particular condition to one that uses new approaches, including genomics, to better diagnose and manage patients’ health and devise targeted therapies to treat their illnesses. This project will use research to deliver practical solutions to clinicians.

Professor Tony Bjourson, who is Professor of Genomics at Ulster University, will lead the project. He said:

Ulster University has a longstanding historyof world-leading medical and health-related teaching and research. This new Centre for Personalised Medicine, Clinical Decision Making and Patient Safety will add yet another dimension to the University’s work and standing in this important area.

Ulster invests £42m in research and innovation programmes each year. That research is often undertaken in partnership with commercial organisations ensuring it is relevant and applicable to real world problems. With the healthcare sector under immese pressure globally and the need for effective, tailored treatment options coupled with excellence of care, this INTERREG VA funded project will place Ulster University at the heart of the solution.”

The Centre’s research objectives include developing tools which will allow earlier diagnosis of dementia and therefore earlier clinical intervention and support, and also learning how to recognise acute kidney injury earlier to reduce mortality and hospital stay. It will also seek to improve the triage of patients with chest pain to allow more appropriate and rapid emergency referral, and look at how to help people better manage their diabetes.

Professor Bjourson added:

“Currently 30 per cent to 50 per cent of patients don’t respond to the treatment they are prescribed and this number is much higher for some diseases. Through this new Centre we will to improve the health of tens of thousands of people and at the same time develop more cost-effective healthcare not just here in Northern Ireland, but around the world. In addition we will be creating innovative products and new optimised care pathway tools and we‘re confident that this will attract investment that will contribute to economic growth.

“Translating the promises of personalised or stratified medicine discoveries from the lab to the clinic, where the rubber meets the road, is recognised as a major global challenge. The key strength of this project is that it is driving personalised medicine discoveries to the front line to help clinicians make better clinical decisions and improved treatment outcomes for us as patients.”

Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer with the Special EU Programmes Body, said:

“This project is a unique EU funded cross-border partnership that has the potential to revolutionise patient treatment and care for serious medical conditions. It represents a significant leap forward with research that can help create a more efficient and effective health service in Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland.

“Research undertaken by these renowned health and life sciences organisations, involved in the project, will also make a positive contribution towards the European Union’s 2020 target of increasing investment in Research and Innovation activity.”

The research institutes and companies that will be partnering with Ulster University in the new Centre are the University of Highlands and Islands, Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Donegal Clinic Research Academy, National University of Ireland Galway, Letterkenny University Hospital, the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre, Western Health and Social Care Trust, NHS Highlands Scotland, United Healthcare Group/Optum, Clinishare Ltd, Advanced Research Cryptography Ltd, Randox Laboratories Ltd and Northern Ireland Clinical Research Services Ltd.

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department of Business , Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.


Dr. Aaron Peace (CEO C-TRIC), Dr. Tony Bjourson (Ulster University) & Dr. Sean Ennis (Genomics Medicine Ireland)

Dr. Aaron Peace (CEO C-TRIC), Dr. Tony Bjourson (Ulster University) & Dr. Sean Ennis (Genomics Medicine Ireland)

Transformational Research Aims to Unlock Keys to Lifelong Disorders including MS and IBD
Irish life sciences company, Genomics Medicine Ireland, is to collaborate with the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC), Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) and Ulster University to undertake comprehensive, population scale genomic research studies in Northern Ireland.

The first two studies will focus on Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), lifelong chronic diseases for which there is currently no known cause or cure. The studies are launching in the Western HSC Trust with roll out planned across Northern Ireland in early 2018.

People from across Northern Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) are being invited to contact their healthcare professionals to learn how they can participate in the studies which aim to identify the genetic cause of these diseases and ultimately find better treatments, diagnoses and cures for these chronic conditions.

MS is one of the most prevalent diseases of the central nervous system and directly affects an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide and more than 4,500 people in Northern Ireland. IBD is chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders primarily affecting adults in the prime of their life. There are two major forms of IBD, Crohn’s disease (CD) and Ulcerative colitis (UC) affecting about 8,000 in Northern Ireland.

Volunteers participating in these studies will be contributing to important scientific research aimed at unlocking the mystery of the genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to MS and IBD. Researchers will combine advanced scientific technology in genomics, the study of all of a person’s genes, together with detailed clinical information to search for answers that one day might lead to the development of new therapeutics for more effective prevention and wellness.

The Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) is a unique facility promoting and facilitating translational and clinical research, the primary objective of which is to reduce both the time to market and the costs associated with research and development of innovative health technologies, medical devices and therapeutics. C-TRIC’s unique infrastructure and key support staff will help facilitate the clinical research and innovation of these studies.

Dr. Sean Ennis, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Genomics Medicine Ireland said, “We look forward to working closely with C-TRIC and Ulster University to develop better new means to optimise health and patient outcomes. The size and characteristics of the Northern Ireland population can powerfully advance scientific discovery as our researchers are able to pinpoint variations in DNA that are relevant to these diseases and useful for improving medicine. The resulting therapies to cure and prevent these diseases will benefit patients both Northern Ireland and around the world.”

Dr. Aaron Peace, CEO of C-TRIC and Director of Research and Development, Western Trust said: “C-TRIC and the Western Trust are delighted to be part of this exciting research collaboration with Ulster University. This is the largest genomics research study undertaken on the island of Ireland to date that has the potential to make a significant genetic contribution to new therapeutic opportunities for people with MS and IBD. C-TRIC, Northern Ireland’s healthcare innovation hub and award winning centre is proud to manage these sponsored studies for GMI.”

Professor Tony Bjourson, Director of Ulster University’s Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine who is leading the project in Northern Ireland said: “MS and IBD are severe, long-term diseases which dramatically impact a person’s ability to live a normal, active life. We know that genomics holds the key to many unanswered questions and Ulster University is one of the leading institutions focusing on this area of highly specialist, personalised approaches to medicine. The collection of genomic data among Northern Ireland’s population will help drive development of novel therapeutic drugs and diagnostics and ultimately we hope, will lead to more targeted treatments for these debilitating conditions.”

Genomics Medicine Ireland is currently undertaking genomic studies in the Republic of Ireland. The company is building Ireland’s first, purpose-built genomics sequencing laboratory to undertake world class research into major chronic diseases within oncology, neuroscience and immunology that affect hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Ireland and hundreds of millions worldwide.

Leeann Monk and Jennifer Neff Co Founders Elemental Software

Leeann Monk and Jennifer Neff Co Founders Elemental Software

Derry Tech For Good Company, Elemental Software, which has developed an award winning social prescribing digital platform that connects patients, health and social care professionals and community health & wellness providers, announced today that it has raised £300,000 with the help of ClearlySo, Europe’s leading impact investment bank. Elemental is using the capital to further develop its software that supports and empowers lifestyle change for communities most at risk, make key staff hires, and expand marketing reach.

Elemental’s platform is the only comprehensive social prescribing solution developed by community development experts that measures the impact of social prescribing and the difference that non clinical solutions can make to the health and wellbeing of communities, which is a growing priority at the highest level in government and rapidly being adopted in the UK.

Elemental Software’s platform was awarded the ‘Best Tech in the 3rd Sector’ of 2016 by Digital DNA and the best enterprise software at INVENT 2016. Leeann Monk and Jennifer Neff, co-founders of Elemental Software, said: “We are absolutely delighted that ClearlySo plugged into the Elemental vision for revolutionising the ability to socially prescribe across the health, social care and third sectors. The investment partnership, created by London based Clearly So, engages social impact investors who each bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise and resource to help us solve one of the most pressing health and social care challenges of our generation.“

More than 80% of the world’s chronic conditions can be avoided by lifestyle change alone. Despite this, chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, mental health related illness and heart disease are rising and so too are costs. In the UK alone, the NHS, which has a funding gap estimated at £22bn by 2020, is spending £7 out £10 in treatment of conditions while GPs capacity is strained.

The key aim of Elemental’s Social Prescribing platform is to demonstrate the value and difference that referrals to local exercise, diet and nutrition and mental support can make to peoples’ lives. Further commenting, Stefano Cappanari, investment manager at ClearlySo, said: “We were very pleased to play a role in helping Elemental scale the “more than medicine” approach to health. From grass-roots Jennifer and Leeann built a business around the patient, health and social professionals, community based providers and Commissioners and we are excited that the capital raise, which closed in record time, and capabilities from our network will allow them to take the next step in transforming our care system for better.”

Mary McKenna, Director at Elemental Software, first introduced the company to ClearlySo, and concludes “I look for startups with that magic combination of knowledgeable and credible founders, a great product and a large and ready market opportunity. Elemental Software has all of that and more.

This investment round will allow Elemental Software to reach that huge social prescribing market at lightning speed.

Catalyst Inc welcomes the investment

Catalyst Inc welcomes the investment

The SEUPB has announced that funding of over €8.5 million from the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme has been offered to Catalyst Inc for the creation of a new cross-border ‘super cluster’ within the Health & Life Sciences business sector.

The project is called the ‘North West Centre for Advanced Manufacturing’, and will be led by Catalyst Inc. It will support eight different key Health & Life Sciences companies involved in 15 different research projects based in the North West to develop new products and processes.

The project aims to enhance the level of cross-border research and innovation collaboration within the area of applied advanced manufacturing. It will also significantly increase the the number of Health & Life Science businesses engaged in commercially focused research in order to make them more competitive.

The project will bring together a number of partners in the creation of a new ‘super cluster’ including the Engineering Research Institute at Ulster University, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre at Glasgow University, the PEM Centre at Sligo Institute of Technology and the CoLab facility at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. Industry partners include Sphere Global, Randox, Lpe, Armstrong Medical, Nuprint, Abbott and GSK.

A total of 26 PhD level researchers, along with post-doctoral research assistants will be recruited over the life time of the project, to work with the eight participating companies, and create up to 98.5 years’ worth of PhD full time equivalent research.

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland, the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland and the University of Glasgow.

Announcing the funding award Gina McIntyre CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which manages the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme said: “This project will make a real impact in terms of providing support for a business sector with strong economic potential. The research produced will be used to strengthen the economic outlook of businesses on a cross-border basis.

“This is one of the core objectives of the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme which has been specifically designed to enhance the levels of Research & Innovation found within businesses across the region,” she continued.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Norman Apsley CEO Catalyst Inc said:

‘As lead partner for the North West Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, we are delighted that the project has been awarded this EU funding. At Catalyst Inc we are focused on advancing the Knowledge Economy and this project will support the development of new products and services by bringing together industry and academic partners to work on research projects deploying Advanced Manufacturing technologies within the Life and Health Sciences sector.

This will see the development of a virtual cross-border Centre for Advanced Manufacturing with a focus on four cross-cutting thematic areas, enabling our industry partners to benefit from additional research facilities and expertise which will have a positive impact on the companies and the wider economy.

Our aim is to increase the level of cross-border collaboration across the region and raise the levels of innovation both of which are key to the regions future economic success.’

A spokesperson for the Department for the Economy said: “Investment in research and development is critical to future economic growth. Strong collaboration between industry and academia will also contribute to success. The creation of this new super-cluster is a welcome development for the health and life sciences sector and a boost for the North West border region.”

Welcoming the project Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said: “I am delighted that this project has been approved and I am very happy that my Department is in a position to co-fund this project. It is a great example of practical cross border cooperation, which will bring strong economic benefits to the eligible regions in both jurisdictions. Manufacturing has been a key sector for us over the years, providing valuable jobs and investment. This new initiative will help drive competitiveness and enhanced value-added, at a time of significant technological change in the industry.”

Padraig Canavan (Acorn Angels) and Oli Cavanagh (Flender)

Padraig Canavan (Acorn Angels) and Oli Cavanagh (Flender)

Irish-based company Flender has won a funding package including the first investment by the Derry/Londonderry Acorn Angel Group, which included Padraig Canavan, Liam Bradley and Paul McElvaney. Flender is an online platform that creates a marketplace for businesses and individuals in the Republic of Ireland to borrow and lend money safely and at better rates than those offered by the banks.

In a significant development following this investment, Flender was awarded full FCA authorisation to launch in the UK, a market nearly 300 times larger than the Irish Peer-to-Peer market. The Flender UK offering will launch in June.

Flender is the brainchild of Strabane born Oli Cavanagh and business partners Kris Koik and Jeremy Davies Betancourt. They have secured funding of nearly £1M to develop the opportunity. This marks the first investment by the Acorn Angels group, whose focus is on investing in the North West and who hope to attract more businesses to pitch for investment.

As well as the Acorn Angels, which was facilitated by Halo at Catalyst Inc, the funding package includes a number of private investors, including Mark Roden, cofounder of Esat Digifone (sold for over £1Billion) and founder of Ding, the world’s largest mobile top-up network. The company is also ‘backed by the crowd’, having reached their £500,000 funding target on crowdfunding platform, Seedrs, in January this year.

Flender enables businesses and consumers to borrow money through their existing networks of friends, family and customers. This market alone is estimated to be worth £2.9bn per annum and it is the aim of company to be first to formalise and automate it.

The platform has just gone live in Ireland and is launching in the UK in June. The company already has many businesses on their flender.ie site seeking a total investment of over €900,000 plus a pipeline of others ready to go onto the platform.

Flender’s Co-Founder, Oli Cavanagh, explains:

Flender lets people take advantage of a disruptive marketplace that is seeing triple-digit growth, making access to funds easier and generating better returns for lenders. It is a web and mobile offering that lets borrowers decide the amount they wish to repay over a period that suits them. They are quickly matched with lenders who also get the return they want. Borrowing and lending happens via a smartphone, in a paperless transaction, and with automated payments setup and digital contracts that provide a secure legal framework. It also lets businesses reward their customers by inviting them to participate, and directs the repayments to them rather than to a bank. The knock-on effect of this is increased loyalty from customers.”

Liam Bradley, Acorn Angels, commented:

“The ability of the Flender platform to engage lenders from within a business’ own social circles is what the group identified as a real gap in the market. Within an addressable market of over £5.4bn between the UK and Ireland, we believe that the company has an opportunity for massive growth. With our first investment under our belts, we would welcome more companies from the North West applying to the group for investment. ”

Pictured launching the new Green Energy Fund as part of their commitment to helping green energy projects are James Gibbons and Conor Devine of Clearpath Finance

Pictured launching the new Green Energy Fund as part of their commitment to helping green energy projects are James Gibbons and Conor Devine of Clearpath Finance

Clearpath Finance, a lending solutions platform has launched a new private investment fund to provide at least £30m to green energy projects and assist local businesses in Northern Ireland.

The Green Energy Fund will be available for new and existing wind farms and anaerobic digester businesses and projects across Northern Ireland.

To date Clearpath Finance has drawn down over £8m of new capital for green energy projects since the company was established in 2016. More growth is expected as Northern Ireland seeks to meet an increasing amount of its energy needs from renewable sources. The green sector generated more than £43bn for the UK in 2015, figures recently released from the Office for National Statistics showed.

Conor Devine MRICS of Clearpath Finance said; “We are committed to helping green energy projects in Northern Ireland. Continued growth and investment into this sector is vital as we move to harvest renewable energy sources.At Clearpath Finance we have the capacity to support the green energy sector in Northern Ireland and we will ensure that business lending for the sector is through a simplified, uncluttered and expedient path as well as at a competitive rate.”

Clearpath Finance provides an alternative source of lending as a commercial finance broker working with a number of major lenders across the UK. The company has established excellent relationships working with a select number of peer-to-peer lenders, equity and mezzanine funders and private lending consortiums to go some way to solve the current liquity crisis in the local economy.

James Gibbons, Clearpath Finance added; “Obtaining and delivering finance in this current market can be extremely difficult. At Clearpath, we have identified the support and solutions needed for businesses who are seeking to finance or refinance their business or project at more competitive finance rates than those currently on offer. We will continue to provide new finance streams to businesses across Northern Ireland.”

Clearpath Finance are currently attending this year’s Balmoral Show between the 10th to 13th May 2017 where they are available to discuss renewable energy projects and advise on how best to avail of funding. More information can be founds at www.clearpathfinance.com.