President, Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine
The NHS workforce challenge within the NHS is an increasingly reported issue. While the focus has been on the medical and nursing workforce shortfalls, the diagnostic workforce — particularly in healthcare sciences — is essential to healthcare delivery.
As workloads increase, so does the demand for qualified healthcare scientists. However, the number of available professionals to fill these roles is not keeping pace.
Why we need to expand diagnostic workforce
We must identify the root causes of the diagnostic workforce crisis and develop strategies to recruit and retain talent. One reason for the shortfall may be attributed to a lack of awareness about healthcare sciences.
Clinical and biomedical scientists are highly skilled employees working up to consultant level within the NHS. They lead the services providing laboratory testing, contributing to the development of improved diagnostic pathways and provision of clinical advice to GPs and clinicians on the appropriate use of tests and interpretations.
Many Trusts report a failure to recruit because the pool of applicants does not exist.
Given the pressures on the medical workforce, there is an increasing need for the clinical scientist workforce to expand — both to fill gaps and as mitigation for existing scientists leaving for other careers or retirement. The development of Community Diagnostic Hubs, the expansion of point-of-care testing services, extended roles for clinical scientists to run patient clinics, and the impact of genomics on day-to-day laboratory investigations all require an expansion of the diagnostic workforce.
Multifaceted approach to address needs
Across the UK, we are under-recruiting. The National School for Healthcare Science has developed bespoke scientific training programmes, but funding and more training support are essential to enable Trusts to take on additional trainees.
Many Trusts report a failure to recruit because the pool of applicants does not exist. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and training centres need to review how educational programmes can be adapted to encourage people to become HCPC-registered scientists. Increased virtual or regional training could support this, with platforms designed to plug the gaps left by traditional teaching programmes.
Action to secure workforce capacity has been identified as a priority to ensure a sustained pipeline of staff with the skills required to deliver diagnostics for the future.