A new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
(IMechE) says the National Health Service faces a huge influx of new technology and a rise in patient numbers in coming years, but to deliver safe and affordable care there will need to be more engineers coming into the healthcare sector.
“Engineers with both clinical and technical skills are needed to ensure that where medical technology and services are being used, they are right for the situation, whether the patient is being treated at home or in hospital.”
In the report — Healthcare Solutions: Elevating the Engineering Workforce
— the IMechE calls for “healthcare engineers to have increased authority and decision-making powers to encourage recruitment and ensure new technology is designed and adopted in the safest, most effective way.”
Helen Meese, lead author of the report and vice chairman of the Institution’s Biomedical Engineering Division, said: “If we are to learn from global crises such as the Covid pandemic, it is that 21st century medicine can only be delivered with significant amounts of technology, and that care at home is just as critical as care in hospitals.”
The report also says that despite WHO (World Health Organisation) calling upon all countries to “recognise engineers working in healthcare settings as an essential professional role for the future of clinical and social care”, there continues to be disparity between healthcare engineers and clinicians.
The NHS has a workforce of around 1.5 million people, but the number of clinical engineers is relatively small compared to this — fewer than 3,500 professionals.
Dr Meese added: “Unlike clinicians there is little uniform recognition of engineers’ contribution, particularly in the hospital environment. These engineers often operate at varying levels of authority and have limited input into critical decision-making.” Parallel report
In a parallel report — Healthcare Solutions: Improving Technology Adoption
— the IMechE calls for the Government and healthcare providers to develop national ‘complete life-cycle’ strategies for technology adoption within the NHS and recommends that two new healthcare engineering roles be created to ensure technology is selected and used to the benefit of all patients.
The first of these is ‘Chief Healthcare Engineer with Strategic Oversight’, a role having professional parity with such as Head of Surgery, Chief Nurse and Chief Pharmacist, to not only ensure best practice in the procurement, maintenance and use of medical equipment but also increase the opportunity for cost savings across the healthcare service.
Meanwhile, ‘Patient-Enablement Engineers and Technicians in Social Care’ would work exclusively in the space between acute care and social care with their clinical colleagues, which means they would not only require the full remit of engineering qualifications and skills but also in-depth clinical and social care knowledge as well as management and customer service experience.