Call for more clinical engineers in healthcare to meet shifting technological & demographic trends
As the NHS faces a huge influx of new technology and rising patient numbers in the coming years, a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has emphasised that more engineers are needed in the healthcare arena.
The ‘Healthcare Solutions: Elevating the Engineering Workforce’ report stresses that clinical and technical engineers will be essential 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.
The findings echo the call made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to countries across the globe, imploring healthcare systems to “recognise engineers working in healthcare settings as an essential professional role for the future.”
Interesting, in spite of the alert, IMechE’s study reveals that there is a substantial discrepancy in the UK between healthcare engineers and clinicians.
Out of the current 1.5 million people working in the NHS workforce, between only 3,000 to 3,500 are clinical engineers, points out the report.
“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,” commented Dr Helen Meese, lead author of the report and Vice-Chair of the Institution’s Biomedical Engineering Division.
“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.”
To address this, IMechE’s report calls for healthcare engineers to have increased decision-making powers and authority within healthcare structures to encourage recruitment and ensure new effective and efficient technology adoption.
Specifically, the Institution proposes the creation of two new healthcare engineering roles: Chief Healthcare Engineer and Patient-Enablement Engineers and Technicians.
Explaining the Chief Healthcare Engineer, IMechE says it is vital that every hospital has a senior engineering role with strategic oversight with professional parity with roles such as the Head of Surgery, Chief Nurse and Chief Pharmacist.
Boasting consistent qualifications, level of authority, decision-making abilities and connectivity with other hospitals, the Institution emphasises this position would promote best practice in the procurement, maintenance and use of medical equipment, alongside the opportunity for cost-savings.
Discussing the Patient-Enablement Engineer and Technician roles, IMechE notes that these positions should be created to help the NHS shift the focus of long-term care and treatment away from clinical settings and into the community.
It comes as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted many health and social care providers to explore adopting new assistive technologies, specifically around technology enabled care (TEC) to provide care while attempting to keep individuals in the community and away from hospitals.
Emphasising that the social care system is already overwhelmed, the contends that steps should be taken to build on the well-proven techniques of rehabilitation and assistive technology engineering to create the patient care pathway at home.
Patient-Enablement Engineers and Technicians would work exclusively in the space between acute care and social care with their clinical colleagues, maintains IMechE. Notably, these roles would not only require the full remit of engineering qualifications and skills but in-depth clinical and social care knowledge as well as management and customer service experience.
In a parallel report, ‘Healthcare Solutions: Improving Technology Adoption’, IMechE also calls for the government and healthcare providers to develop national ‘complete life-cycle’ strategies for technology adoption within the NHS.
In particular, the Institution recommends using strategic planning of technology for remote patient monitoring and in GP practices.