Comedian Alex Brooker comes to Salford

Categories: School of Health and Society

“All my mates know I’ve got a prosthetic leg. I bet they’ve never thought about the person who has to make it for me.”

The University was delighted to welcome comedian and TV presenter Alex Brooker on Monday for an exclusive tour.

He was here to visit our undergraduate and postgraduate Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) teams, who have been training future professionals for over thirty years. Along the way they have built a national and international reputation for the quality of their work and research.

Alex with students in the Plaster Room

Alex fronts Channel 4’s topical Last Leg comedy show along with Adam Hills and Josh Widdicombe. Alex was born with hand and arm disabilities. He was born without a fibula and became a lower limb amputee at 13 months old. A condition called Talipes in his left foot meant Alex wore an AFO (ankle foot orthosis) for most of his childhood.”

He is famously open about discussing this and is patron of several organisations which are all helping to normalise the conversation around limb loss and disability, including The British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO) who helped to organise the visit.

But he confesses that he has never given much thought to the people behind the scenes who work to create the mobility aids in the first place – until his visit to campus.

“All my mates know I’ve got a prosthetic leg,” he said. “ But I bet they’ve never thought about the person who has to make it for me! I’ve learnt stuff today that I wouldn’t have thought about, and I’m a prosthetics user myself.”  

Salford is  currently the only University in England that offers a full time BSc (Hons) in Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O). Despite this, applications to study it are falling across the UK, reducing the number of people who are skilled in this work.

Prosthetists provide artificial limbs (prostheses) for people who have had an amputation due to disease or trauma or who have been born without an arm or leg. Orthotists provide splints or braces (orthoses) for people who need part of their body supported, corrected or protected.

During the visit it emerged that two Salford P&O graduates have close links with Alex. His Orthotist trained at Salford, as did his former Prosthetist, so he already has good reason for visiting.

Alex visited the Prosthetics and Orthotics teams at Frederick Road campus on Monday morning. He was shown around our three rooms which are used for teaching undergraduates. Lecturer James May, Dr Martin Twiste and Tutor Tabby Heeley introduced him to students who demonstrated the range of traditional and cutting-edge techniques being taught.

“The facilities here at Salford are amazing, it really sets up students to go out into their careers,” said Alex. He acknowledges the P&O career is somewhat hidden in the NHS - and that he wants to help change that.

“If I’m honest I hadn’t really appreciated the vital work that goes into the training. This job is so important, and it’s just as important - if not more so - than [the job the] doctors and surgeons do]. They do the work and they are off and away. But it’s up to the Prosthetists to help you gain your independence, or regain your independence in some cases.

“It can make or break [how you feel] how your prosthesis fits or not. It’s just something that seems so obvious but it’s the difference between leading an independent life – and not. I’ve got a lot of respect for the students here who have chosen this career path, it’s really important that students keep coming through and going into the industry.”

Alex also spent time with Professors Malcolm Granat and Laurence Kenney, who lead the University’s internationally acclaimed £6 million UK EPSRC Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Doctoral Training in Prosthetics and Orthotics, which is training 60 PhD students.

Professor Malcolm Granat said: “Our PhD students are working at the cutting edge of P&O research nationally and internationally focussing on real world problems faced by users. The recent interaction between Alex and our students was dynamic, enjoyable and enlightening providing them with plenty of insightful considerations.”

Gill Rawlinson is Director of Allied and Public Health at the University. “Numbers of new applicants to P&O are declining right across the board in all universities,” she said. “That’s a real worry for the profession, especially if you consider there are around 65000 people in the UK requiring at least one prosthesis. And approximately 1.2 million people in the UK requiring an orthosis. It’s vital that we remind people what a great career option it is. Alex is a brilliant ambassador for any conversation around the subject and we are so grateful he came to visit.”

Sue Irving is the CEO of BAPO: “I’m delighted that Alex was able to visit the University as BAPO’s Patron. The P&O profession changes lives, as Alex knows, and it’s an amazing career for anyone who really wants to make a difference. Alex is a great role model who lives his life showing the impact of the profession, so BAPO will continue to work with him to raise awareness and encourage more people to recognise these career opportunities. Thank you to Alex and the Salford team for making this happen.”

Meeting the doctoral students, PhD researcher Mike Baldock told Alex how he’s using the University’s advanced facilities to improve the fit of prosthetic limbs. “We have been using the Uni’s motion capture rooms and twelve infra-red cameras to track how a prosthetic socket is moving relative to the residual limb when walking. We are specifically looking at the design of adjustable prosthetic sockets which are now being used by people who have limb volume fluctuations.”

Matt Wassall spoke about his PhD, which is developing methods to improve how prosthetists design limbs. They rely on patients telling them about their patterns of activity, which can be subjective and unintentionally inaccurate. Matt is developing a way to track activity whereby patients wear sensors to give clinicians a clearer picture.

Lesley Davidson spoke about her PhD, which focuses on better understanding of prosthesis users’ experiences of repair. All users experience problems with their device at some point, yet the impact this has needs to be understood better. It is hoped that her work will help improve support for patients from both manufacturers and clinicians.

Finally, Alex met with Aladino Manhiça  from Mozambique, and Winnie Matovu from Uganda, who are both spending time in Salford, funded through the Commonwealth Fellowship programme. They spoke about their efforts to strengthen supply chains for prosthetics and orthotics services in their countries.

Find out more about the University of Salford’s world leading undergraduate and PG courses here: BSc (Hons) Prosthetics and Orthotics | University of Salford

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