A leading healthcare scientist has said the profession is being “hamstrung” due to a lack of awareness and investment.
The term covers staff working across a variety of roles across the NHS to help prevent, diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions – with experts involved in 80% of all clinical decisions.
There are more than 50 specialisms under healthcare science which sit within four groups known as laboratory (pathology) sciences, physiological sciences, medical physics and clinical engineering and bioinformatics.
Within these groups, there are diverse areas which cover everything from the investigation of disease, genetics and the development of new treatments, direct work with patients to assess physical functions and the safety, maintenance and creation of new medical technology.
Dr Jo Horne, lead healthcare scientist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said despite growing clinical prominence, the profession was “not afforded” the same opportunities as doctors and nurses.
“There is still a general lack of awareness about the roles of people working in healthcare science in the NHS – despite more than 50,000 of us now in post – and that is a real threat to progress,” she said, speaking out during Healthcare Science Week which runs until Sunday.
“Healthcare scientists are not yet afforded opportunities to develop their clinical and academic careers, or obtain research funding, in the same way as medics and nurses are and that is leaving some areas hamstrung.
“This may be due to historical working practices, a lack of nationally-funded training schemes or a lack of knowledge of our existence and roles within the NHS.”
Dr Horne (right), who specialises in gastrointestinal histopathology, said there was now a “significant challenge” to remove “barriers” to recruitment.
“Feedback nationally tells us there are barriers to creating posts for healthcare scientists, while the same barriers often do not exist when creating posts for medics, nurses or managers.
“We need to not just do what we have always done when creating posts and we must ask: Who else could do this role? Is the historic choice still the best choice?”
At UHS, there are more than 350 healthcare scientists which make up around 5% of the workforce – with the trust at the forefront of a number of significant national projects.
These include the creation of advanced clinical practice roles in histopathology to help support consultant colleagues with diagnostic turnaround times and the development of automated clinical image processing software in medical physics.
“NHS England is encouraging all trusts to introduce lead healthcare scientist roles and we have done this at UHS,” said Dr Horne.
“This ensures, at the very least, the healthcare science workforce can be brought together to get greater and wider representation in the same way that doctors, nurses and allied health professionals do.
“The challenge now is to push for more leaders, continue to raise the profile of the profession and all of its specialisms and secure its future by addressing shortages in the workforce nationwide.”
Posted on Friday 15 March 2019