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COVID-19: Workforce response to coronavirus

Information regarding the healthcare science workforce response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

HCS COVID-19 Response Survey

As Healthcare Scientists, we form the scientific backbone of the NHS and are essential to patient pathway in both ordinary and extraordinary times. We would like to hear from Healthcare Scientists (HCS) of all levels who have expanded their role or reconfigured services to contribute to the COVID-19 response.

The National School for Healthcare Science in collaboration with the CSO office are hosting this survey to enable us to better understand how COVID-19 has influenced HCS practice. We want to capture best practice examples of how we have used our scientific expertise to expand into other areas of work and how we have delivered services differently to meet the needs of our patients and the public during this time.

Link to survey

BMJ article: Trainee healthcare scientists are vital to surviving the long road ahead

The role of the healthcare scientist has proven to be particularly vital to efforts against COVID-19 in the UK. These scientists are involved in services across all frontline areas: contributing to the processing of tests for COVID-19, decontaminating and managing ventilators, imaging patients and, so much more.

It is imperative that the role of trainee healthcare scientists, as well as those already in post, is recognised and their services in supporting the COVID-19 response is acknowledged and further utilised. Those on healthcare science training programmes have much to offer in their basic and transferable skills, thereby allowing specialists and consultants in their field to focus on the more complex duties of their discipline. In some instances, trainees have already been actively contributing to the COVID-19 response. Many have been upskilled and redeployed to critical care or COVID-19 wards, or to the Nightingale hospitals. In other cases, trainees have reported working across hospitals acting in roles, such as family liaison officers.

Full BMJ article

Statement updated 2nd April 

Supporting the COVID-19 response: Guidance regarding healthcare science education and training

The National School of Healthcare Science in HEE is aware of the multiple concerns around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and we appreciate this will also have an effect on healthcare science education and training.

We wish to emphasise the importance of following current guidance and advice from Public Health England.

As evidenced by developments over the last few days, it is likely that our NHS will have to manage increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. There is a shared understanding that if COVID-19 becomes a significant epidemic in the UK, clinical services will be stretched and that this will be aggravated by staff shortages due to sickness, imposed isolation and caring responsibilities. The National School of Healthcare Science has been continuously considering and updating contingency arrangements for healthcare science education and training processes during this emergent phase of the COVID-19 outbreak and we will continue to monitor and advise as required over the coming days and weeks.

Our current expectation is that there will be increasing requirements for healthcare science trainees and trainers to support NHS Healthcare providers in managing the care of acutely ill patients. This may result in disruption or cancellation of training activities and trainees being directed to alternative tasks and / or locations to support the COVID-19 response. This could mean trainees in non-acute areas being asked to support urgent and unplanned care in appropriate ways, but may also include providing support to teams in other disciplines.

Flexible working by healthcare professionals, including healthcare scientists in training, to support patient and population needs in a significant outbreak will be essential, but it will be imperative that this is considered in the context of patient and trainee safety. Learning opportunities from providing support to address the COVID-19 response are significant, but it is recognised that there could be an impact on anticipated learning and trainee progression given that trainees may fail to meet some of their curriculum requirements. However, the National School of Healthcare Science are determined to ensure the longer-term needs of healthcare scientists in training are not compromised.

Guidance principles for all trainees

  • Trainees must not be asked to undertake any activity beyond their level of competence and must be advised they should seek senior workplace guidance if that arises.
  • Trainees deployed to a different specialty or clinical area must have appropriate induction and be informed of who they are reporting to, and who is providing supervision with details of how to contact them.
  • Arrangements for redeployed trainees should be reviewed weekly to ensure that trainees are adequately supervised in the host environment / specialty, and that they continue to work within the limits of their competence appropriate to their stage of training.
  • Where training is interrupted or learning outcomes are not achieved due to a major incident response, these issues will be taken into account and progression and completion requirements of training programmes adapted accordingly.
  • Recruitment to the STP and HSST programmes for the proposed 2020 start will continue although the selection processes are being amended given the demands upon applicants and interviewers of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Professor Berne Ferry
Head of The National School of Healthcare Science

Professor Sheona MacLeod
Deputy Medical Director for Education Reform, Health Education England

Statement updated 31st March 

Joint statement regarding workforce response to coronavirus from Professor Dame Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement; Dr Rob Orford, Chief Scientific Advisor (Health), Welsh Government; Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor, Department of Health Northern Ireland; and Karen Stewart, Healthcare Science Officer, Scottish Government

As we enter unprecedented times in the NHS and wider health and social care services, we wanted to write to you firstly to thank you for the exceptionally hard work you and your staff are doing, and secondly to offer you our support.

The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, and the Prime Minister has declared that the UK is moving into the delay phase of fighting the virus, which will put the NHS and wider health and care services of all four nations under extreme pressure. This pressure will inevitably be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities. It will be a challenge, but we are confident that the healthcare science workforce will respond rapidly and professionally. We want to assure colleagues that we recognise this will require temporary changes to practice, and that regulators and others will take this into account.

A significant epidemic requires health and care professionals to be flexible in what they do and to utilise all the skills they have to support the broader multiprofessional team, especially in areas such as critical care. It may entail working in unfamiliar circumstances or surroundings or working in clinical areas outside their usual practice for the benefit of patients, individuals and the population as a whole. This can be stressful, and we recognise that 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 situations that you may face. However, these also need to take account of the realities of a very abnormal emergency situation.

We want you, as healthcare science professionals, to use your unique skill set and professional judgement to assess risk, to prioritise the services that need to be provided and to make sure patients continue to receive high quality safe services. It is the responsibility of the organisations in which you work to ensure that you are supported to do this. They must bear in mind that healthcare scientists may need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures and accreditation processes to provide scientific services for patients in the unique and highly challenging but time-bound circumstances of the peak of an epidemic.

We expect employers, educationalists, professional bodies and national NHS organisations to be flexible in terms of their approach and the expectations of routine requirements. The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has already committed to take into account factors relevant to the environment in which the professional is working. Due consideration should and will be given to health and care professionals and other staff who are using their skills under difficult circumstances due to lack of personnel and overwhelming demand in a major epidemic. This may include working outside their usual scope of practice. The HCPC has already released a joint statement to explain this.

We are now working with the HCPC to enable people who have recently left the register to come back to work, and to invite our final year healthcare science students to come into clinical practice to support us over the next few months. We also recognise that the recruitment, training and assessment of healthcare science trainees in the system may need to be slowed down or paused or done differently.

We ask for your support as we work with the relevant education and training bodies in each of the four health administrations in the UK to agree the solutions and understand the impact. We ask you to ensure that healthcare science trainees in the system get the support they need to continue their training when this emergency situation is in a different phase. In the meantime, enabling them to work in new and different ways to support our response to COVID-19 and enhance their development will be beneficial to all.

Finally, we would like to thank you all for all the efforts you are already making. The healthcare science workforce across the NHS and public health and care services has already made major contributions to the response to COVID-19. We are very proud of our professions’ response to this challenge in all areas of practice. It has been exemplary. We are confident of the commitment, dedication and hard work that healthcare science professionals have and will continue to have in the very testing event of a significant epidemic in the UK. Your professionalism and work has never been more vital or more valued.

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

Dr Rob Orford
Chief Scientific Advisor (Health), Welsh Government

Karen Stewart
Healthcare Science Officer, Scottish Government

Professor Ian Young
Chief Scientific Advisor, Department of Health Northern Ireland