The Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) represents over 53,000 Healthcare Scientists () and 55 professional bodies in Healthcare Science in the UK. We feel the issues raised by Cancer UK publicised on the BBC Radio 4 “Today “programme and BBC News website are misleading regarding pathology services.
Most of the pathology diagnosis for cancer is not carried out by doctors as the articles suggested, but by teams of highly trained Healthcare Scientists in accredited laboratories on a daily basis. For every medical doctor, there is usually a team of 10 or moresupporting the patient through extensive healthcare diagnostics & therapy. This includes scientific staff from the practitioner to Consultant scientist level who may be life scientists, physiologists, medical physicists & engineers and biometricians.
Furthermore, all these areas of Healthcare Science are involved in the patient pathway to prepare them for surgery or other therapy. They too are under pressure as there is reducing numbers of staff because of retirement and insufficient training of new scientists in certain areas. For example despite excellent training programmes, too few funded places are available in for example cardiology, neurophysiology & medical physics, all of whom may be involved in patient assessment prior to any surgery.
However, in pathology, the picture is more complex than presented and investment in new technology and innovation developed by scientists is speeding up diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients. Nevertheless, the increased demands on detecting cancer are outstripping these new efficiencies.
Whilst the reports state that doctors who report pathology are themselves in short supply, investing in more senior Healthcare Scientists to take on the ”traditional” doctors diagnostic duties will release the medics to focus on therapeutic and the more patient facing aspects of patient care. Hospital Trusts therefore, need to consider Healthcare Scientists in their service and workforce plans.
Adding further to the complexity, the instigation of funding cuts, caps to service expansion and relentless increases in service demand all act to limit diagnostic capability. We agree that a crisis is looming, however, we also believe it is here now. By working constructively with healthcare scientist teams it should be possible to find workable solutions to any impending crisis. Patients should be confident that excellent cancer services are a priority for all the staff who work in the.
Dr Brendan G Cooper M.Sc., Ph.D., C.Biol, FRSB, FERS.