Supporting the healthcare science workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

Classification: Official
Publications approval reference: C0901

December 2020

Dear Colleagues

Supporting the healthcare science workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for the NHS and the entire UK population. The healthcare science workforce has stood up, demonstrating incredible skill, resilience and professionalism to help us through these challenging times. On behalf of the profession, we thank you for your extraordinary contribution to reduce the impact of this crisis on the lives of our fellow citizens. We all know you have been working tirelessly; your professionalism and effort have never been more vital or more valued.

The healthcare science workforce has been front and centre in the NHS response to COVID-19 and your input has been vital. Our clinical engineers have been fundamental to the COVID-19 response, including the roll out of huge volumes of critical care equipment, ensuring it is fit for purpose and supporting the training of clinical staff in new equipment and medical technologies. Our bioinformaticians and informaticians have supported the response to COVID-19 through research and data analysis, which has enabled us to better understand, predict and model the spread and impact of the virus. Healthcare scientists have also played a critical role in supporting the development and scaling up of COVID-19 testing capacity. Across the country the healthcare science workforce has used its unique scientific and technological skillset to support the NHS and the public during this pandemic.

The pandemic has required staff to be flexible in what they do and to utilise all their skills as part of broader multiprofessional teams. They may have to continue to work in unfamiliar circumstances or work in clinical areas outside their usual practice. Pressure may well be prolonged throughout the winter period, with local variation and fluctuation in cases and this will require a sustained and prolonged response from the whole profession.

We are working hard to support our healthcare science workforce to continue to respond rapidly and professionally. We know change and uncertainty can be stressful and you may have concerns about both the professional practicalities and implications of working in such circumstances.

It is important that we stick to the core principles of our profession and use judgement in applying those scientific principles to assess risk and deliver safe patient care. While work may look and feel different right now, we must continue to rely on the values and principles set out in our professional standards. Staff should continue to work within their frame of competence but may have to work outside their usual teams, hierarchies and scope of practice. Due consideration will be given to healthcare professionals and other staff who are using their skills under difficult circumstances. The healthcare regulators have released a joint statement acknowledging this and setting out how they will carry out their roles during this time.

It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that staff working in their organisations are supported to deliver patient care. They must bear in mind that staff may need to depart from established procedures and accreditation. Guidance and resources for employers have been collated by the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England, Health Education England and NHS Employers.

We also recognise the way trainee healthcare scientists and students have stepped up to support the COVID-19 response. We must continue to build on this, ensuring that the contribution of trainee healthcare scientists and students is recognised and their services in supporting the COVID-19 response are further utilised. We are determined to ensure the prospects of trainee healthcare scientists and students are not compromised by this prolonged health crisis. We are working closely with employers, educationalists and professional bodies to enable trainees and students to work and develop in new and different ways and continue to support the healthcare science response to COVID-19.

Finally, we would like to thank you again for all the tireless efforts you have and will continue to make. We are proud of each and every one of you for your commitment, determination and dedication. You are a credit to our profession.

Professor Dame Sue Hill DBE FMedSci FRSB FRCP (Hon) FRCPath(Hon) FHCS | Chief Scientific Officer for England and SRO for Genomics

Dr Delia Ripley | Deputy Chief Scientific Advisor for WalesWelsh Government