Middlesex University has co-led a first-of-its-kind course to train healthcare professionals to work with intelligent robots, a skill that is likely to be much needed in the sector in the near-future.

The five-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) taught students about the capabilities of socially assistive robots, looked at what makes for successful interactions between humans and robots and addressed ethical issues and misconceptions.

The course attracted more than 450 participants from 15 different countries and focused specifically on the health and social care industry. It was part of the IENE10 transcultural robotics nursing project, which is funded by the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme.

Professor Irena Papadopoulos, head of the research centre for transcultural studies in health at Middlesex University, said: “The number of doctors and nurses is shrinking every year and we have to be prepared as best as we can to work with technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

“Socially assistive robots will be helping people with dementia as constant companions and we can expect to see more robots in operating theatres, in the reception of clinics and hospitals, as they are already in Japan and China, welcoming patients and providing information.

“The widespread use of robots in health and social care will be a reality in the next decade so this course was crucial because educating and informing the workforce and the public is really important.”

Robots are already to be found working within the NHS. Earlier this year Sheffield Children’s Hospital hosted a study into their potential use to help calm young patients’ anxieties and fears.

The training co-ordinator was Middlesex University, and it worked in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, the University of Genova in Italy, the Cyprus University of Technology, Edunet in Romania, and FH Vorarlberg University of Applied Science in Austria.

Each institute had students attend the training, alongside members of the public. The MOOC nursing course is open for members of the public to take as a self-directed course, free of charge.