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5th December 2022

Healthcare scientists: The unsung heroes of the NHS

The NHS is a force at work. Doctors and nurses are well known for their outstanding care, but there are more heroes behind the scenes…
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Healthcare scientists: The unsung heroes of the NHS
National Cancer Institute @ Unsplash

The annual Teddy Chester lecture was given on the 29th November this year. The event, held since 2005, pays tribute to the late Teddy Chester who was the first professor of social administration at The University of Manchester.

Before his retirement in 1970, Chester had a dedicated career in management development, in particular working with clinical leaders. He was also involved in founding and leading the NHS Graduate Training Scheme.

This year’s lecture was given by Berne Ferry, head of the National School for Healthcare Scientists. Ferry is highly regarded for her work, including that which she carried out during COVID-19, achieving various awards. This included one from the Institute of Biomedical Science.

The lecture focused on the emergence of healthcare science and public consciousness – highlighting the key role that healthcare scientists play in the NHS.

The Emergence of Healthcare Scientists

Over the last 15 years, the emergence of healthcare scientists has had a significant impact on the NHS. Their involvement in diagnosis and patient care is extremely important. With some scientists as highly qualified as senior medical clinicians, it is difficult to understand why they are often still forgotten.

There are over 60,000 healthcare scientists within 50 different specialities. Examples include radiotherapy physicists, who are critical in cancer therapies, clinical engineers and medical physicists who were involved in providing life-saving ventilators during COVID-19, and pathology scientists, who work through thousands of patient blood tests and interpret results allowing for the all-important diagnosis.

The majority of their work makes an immediate societal impact, yet patients often can be talking to scientists without knowing who they are or the difference that they make to their care.

Crucial Development to the Scheme

This is why, with the backing of the government, a new scheme was brought forward to unify the training and regulation of healthcare scientists. It was important to develop a ‘professional currency’ to insure these roles were no longer invisible.

The Chief Scientific Officer at the time of this modernisation, Dame Professor Sue Hill, along with over 50 professional bodies, agreed that one unified voice would be very beneficial.

Greater control over regulations, decisions and public spending signalled to the public that their health is being taken seriously. Scientific departments, including key healthcare scientists, were influential in this development, providing their knowledge to help determine what will and will not work in NHS trusts over the country.

Ensuring Continued Success

From these conversations came two new bodies, the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) and the National School of Healthcare Scientists (NSHCS).

AHCS was set up to ensure that healthcare science registers were developed and has become a professional body council to speak with one voice. The NSHCS provides a resilient curriculum which enables high-quality education to produce excellent healthcare scientists and well-trained leaders and managers.

Around 85% of healthcare scientists trained by the NSHCS get a job in the NHS, with the remaining working in the industry and staying within the scientific community. Global collaborations have begun to occur, including with scientists in Toronto and Melbourne, to try to share key workings and successes.

Looking to the Future

At the University of Manchester, the Scientific Training Programme (STP) is offered for a variety of clinical pathways. This includes clinical biochemistry, clinical bioinformatics and genomics and clinical pharmaceutical science, among others.

These pathways are ever-expanding, becoming more popular with students every year. There is extensive career and academic qualification progression, including the ability to work towards becoming a Consultant Clinical Scientist, which involves being awarded the HSST doctorate. This course is currently only offered at the Manchester Academy for Healthcare Scientist Education (MAHSE).

COVID-19 has meant that the critical role of healthcare scientists has become more appreciated. However, it is important that awareness of their influence in diagnosis and patient care is known by many more.

Ferry’s future hope for the NHS and the programme is that everyone continues to recognise that we are all working towards the same goal and that we are one body. It is with this that the NHS will continue to provide the best possible care.

Upcoming Scientific Training Programme Events:

If you’re interested in finding out more about healthcare science, why not attend an open day to find out more?

6th December 2022: Medical Physics STP 2023 Open Day – Clatterbridge Centre, Liverpool

9th December 2022: Genomic Counselling, Genomics, Cancer Genomics and Bioinformatics STP 2023 Open Day West Midlands Regional Genetics Laboratory and Clinical Genetics Department

16th December 2022 – Medical Physics STP 2023 Open Day – University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust

January 2023 (date TBC) – MAHSE Open Day 2023 Intake


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