IPEM “Medical physics and clinical engineering workforce shortage needs urgent action”

By 28.06.23

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) has published a statement on the current workforce shortfalls and recruitment outlook within medical physics and clinical engineering (MPCE) and urges action be taken to combat the challenges being experienced by the workforce.

The statement calls for a number of specific measures, designed to alleviate a ‘perfect storm’ impacting the workforce, including a lack of funding, a drop in the number of training places available, failure to tackle a previous reliance on staff from overseas as well as developing the workforce from within the UK.

‘Swift and decisive action needed’

IPEM’s statement makes clear the primary solution to redress the workforce issues is to increase the amount of funding available and expand the number of MPCE training posts. In addition, funding should be made available to enable development of workforce skills to reach a safe establishment of experienced staff and certified Medical Physics Experts to ensure the workforce has a proficient and sustainable skill mix.

IPEM’s statement calls for four key actions to be taken to redress the current MPCE workforce shortage, training and new recruitment issues:

  1. Provide £8 million additional funding annually over a 5-year period to NHS Trusts to increase their staffing and training capacity, so £40M in total
  2. Utilise and promote all available training routes to train as many new staff as possible
  3. Include specific ‘Clinical Scientist’ and ‘Clinical Technologist’ role titles on the National Shortage Occupation List
  4. Add Clinical Engineers as an eligible occupation of the Health and Care Worker Visa as a matter of urgency

Dr Robert Farley, IPEM’s President, said:

‘Without swift and decisive action, the UK’s MPCE workforce will continue to decline. This will undoubtedly affect crucial aspects of patient care, with the potential to lead to missed or delayed diagnoses, unsafe equipment and long waiting lists for treatments/interventions.’

Medical physics and clinical engineering workforce contribute to 45% of all patient treatments within NHS hospitals

Often regarded as a ‘hidden’ workforce, most Clinical Scientists, engineers and technologists are employed in hospitals, and work closely with doctors and radiographers to ensure that patients are safe from potential hazards, including radiation. Staff working in medical physics and clinical engineering work across a range of diagnostics and contribute to over 45% of all patient treatments within NHS hospitals.

Medical physics staff may deliver radiotherapy treatments, and work to ensure that patients who require any form of medical imaging are safe, and that their medical imaging is of good quality to ensure accurate diagnoses can be made.

Clinical engineering staff also work in diagnostics and radiotherapy, as well as ensuring that medical devices such as ventilators and nebulisers are safe for patients to use, in addition to developing bespoke devices for patient rehabilitation, such as wheelchairs and prosthetics.

Clinical technologists (sometimes known as medical technologists) work across an increasingly wide range of cutting-edge technology in various areas, such as radiotherapy, bio-engineering, dialysis, laser procedures, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine and ultrasound. They are responsible for maintaining, monitoring and operating complex, specialised equipment used in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

MPCE staff are also crucial in advancing and delivering new and cutting-edge techniques to benefit patients.

Dr Anna Barnes, IPEM’s President-Elect, said:

‘I’m proud to be a Clinical Scientist working in medical physics and clinical engineering. Our workforce is absolutely crucial to the effective running of the NHS, whether in a vast range of diagnostics, in relentlessly learning and improving on processes, or in optimising and adapting the latest technologies to keep up with ever improving and evolving treatments.  Our workforce also enact the decisions doctors make – they frequently deliver the treatment prescribed and optimise the delivery of that treatment using the latest technology.

‘They play a crucial role in areas like critical care and ICU, where each £40K bed is commissioned and maintained by clinical engineers.

‘Simply put, if the MPCE workforce was not there, nurses couldn’t monitor patients and doctors wouldn’t have the information they need to be able to make decisions or to deliver the treatment required. Any comprehensive workforce plan for the NHS must take into account the urgent challenges we are facing in MPCE.’

Established workforce shortfalls

IPEM’s Workforce Intelligence Unit (WIU) has routinely surveyed and evaluated issues relating to staffing levels within the MPCE workforce since 2013. The unit, together with IPEM volunteers drawn from across the healthcare science professions, have gone on to develop workforce models for multiple specialisms within MPCE to provide guidance outlining the essential requirements for a safe and effective workforce. These models have been critical in determining the established workforce shortfall in several areas and have emphasised the need for further funding dedicated to increasing the workforce establishment.

Dr Farley added:

‘Clinical Scientists, technologists and engineers are a crucial sub-group of the healthcare science workforce and play vital roles in the delivery of modern healthcare. For the last 10 years, it has been clear this workforce has been significantly under-resourced and is now approaching the point of being unable to deliver the safe and effective services underpinning our NHS.

‘Training numbers have consistently failed to keep pace with workforce turnover and the difficulty in meeting statutory Medical Physics Expert requirements illustrates the significant challenges relating to career progression within MPCE.

‘Previous attempts to boost recruitment by attracting staff from overseas reflect the failure to plan and develop the workforce from within the UK.’

Ageing population fuels increasing demand

Matt Dunn, IPEM’s Vice-President for Medical Physics, summed up how the issue will impact patients:

‘The current shortages in the MPCE workforce need to be addressed by a fully funded and supported long term plan. Without adequate scientists and technologists, the ability of the NHS to carry out diagnostics safely and support the timely treatment of patients will be severely affected. This is particularly important as the population ages and services expand to keep pace with the increasing demand.’