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03.09.20

IMechE: Cutting-edge healthcare will require more engineers

For the NHS to take maximum advantage of a huge influx of new, cutting-edge technology in the coming years, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has stressed the need for more engineers coming into the healthcare sector.

According to their latest reports, the NHS workforce features just 3,000 clinical engineers out of a workforce of around 1.5 million people.

With more new technology requiring handling and expected rises in patient numbers, it is anticipated the current workforce may struggle to meet the demand for their services in the years to come.

To best utilise medical technologies and services and ensure they are the right option for the situation, whether the patient is being treated at home or in hospital, engineers with both clinical and technical skills are needed.

In the first of their two released reports, Healthcare Solutions: Elevating the Engineering Workforce, IMechE calls for increased authority and decision-making powers to be granted to healthcare engineers; steps the body believes would encourage recruitment and ensure new technology is designed and adopted in the safest, most effective way.

Dr Helen Meese, Lead Author of the report and Vice Chair 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.

“Unlike clinicians there is little uniform recognition of engineers’ contribution, particularly in the hospital environment.

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“These engineers often operate at varying levels of authority and have limited input into critical decision-making.”

IMechE’s second, parallel report – Healthcare Solutions: Improving Technology Adoption – calls for the UK Government and healthcare providers to develop national ‘complete life-cycle strategies for technology adoption within the NHS. It recommends strategic planning of technology to be used for remote patient monitoring and in GP practices.

The Institution also recommends the creation of two new health engineering roles to ensure technology selected and used will be of a benefit to all patients. The new proposed roles are:

Chief Healthcare Engineer with Strategic Oversight – Every hospital should have a Chief Healthcare Engineer, a position of professional parity with roles such as the Head of Surgery, Chief Nurse and Chief Pharmacist.

These engineers would have consistent qualifications, level of authority, decision-making abilities and connectivity with other hospitals. This would not only promote best practice in the procurement, maintenance and use of medical equipment but increase the opportunity for cost savings across the healthcare service.

Patient-Enablement Engineers and Technicians in Social Care – The growing desire to move long-term care and treatment out of the clinical setting, is creating a new dilemma for already overwhelmed social care systems.

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.

They 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.

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