British Society for Echocardiography (BSE)

Echocardiographers independently perform a wide range of ultrasound based diagnostic procedures to assess the structure and function of the heart and its associated vasculature in a range of environments. The national body, the British Society of Echocardiography, represents the interests of those working in clinical echocardiography at all levels, and in all areas, including: adult and paediatric cardiology, cardiovascular research and post-graduate level education. With over 3,300 members, it is the largest of the professional groups affiliated to the British Cardiovascular Society. It has functional links to the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging (EACVI) and is an American Society of Echocardiography International Alliance Partner.

Although originally intended to cater primarily for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the Society now has members from many disciplines (Healthcare Science, medicine, radiography and nursing) in over 30 countries in Europe, the Middle and Far East, North and South America and Africa. The Society has a major interest in the education and training of all echocardiographers. It regularly publishes training guidelines and oversees the formal accreditation programme of written examinations, documented clinical experience and viva voce of practice. There are specialist options for adult transthoracic, transoesophageal, critical care and community echocardiography. These accreditations are accepted as evidence of competence by employers and those responsible for organising higher medical training in cardiology.

As physiologists and clinical scientists, echocardiographers are heavily involved in training, education and scientist-led research programmes. In line with Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC), and consistent with other physiological sciences, students of echocardiography now train through the Scientist Training Programme (STP) and regularly undertake independent research programmes. MSC has helped establish consultant cardiac scientist posts throughout the country with a number of graduates now undertaking the Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) programme; the process of equivalence is available to those with exceptional experience and achievements and has been completed by a handful of highly experienced scientists.

However, there remains a significant national shortage of qualified echocardiographers in substantive roles. There is at least a 30% deficit in employed Cardiac Physiologists across the UK currently. Despite recruitment of echocardiographers from Europe, there is a heavy dependence on agency staff to provide routine echocardiography services, at a substantial cost to the NHS. Adding cardiac physiology onto the Shortage Occupations List would allow echocardiographers from countries outside of the EU to enter the UK on a long-term basis under a Tier 2 visa, greatly increasing recruitment potential. However, although the Society has requested that cardiac physiology be added to this list, there are no intentions to add further occupations until after the UK has left the European Union.

The Society has recently undertaken a great deal of charitable support of cardiac screening programmes in Africa. Echo in Africa is a collaborative project between the British Society of Echocardiography and SUNheart which takes place at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town South Africa.

Now in its fifth year, volunteers are invited to take part in this project that screens students for early stage rheumatic heart valve disease from secondary schools in low socio-economic rural communities in Cape Town. This project will give these children early access to diagnosis and necessary aftercare through the Tygerberg Hospital, as well as validating an echocardiography screening protocol to be used in the communities.

Shaun Robinson – Clinical Cardiac Scientist, British Society of Echocardiography representative to the AHCS council.