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Berne’s blog – April 2021

Last updated: 1st April 2021

Writing this blog after a six-month break and on a beautiful warm Spring day, the last day of March 2021.

Hi everyone,

Today 30,905,538 people in the UK have received the first dose of a COVID vaccine and 4,108,536 people have received the second dose of a COVID vaccine, (including an old friend of mine just today). To say this is a fantastic achievement is an understatement, even when I wrote my last blog in October 2020, I, an eternal optimist, could not have predicted such a success.

Thank you to all those wonderful scientists around the world who made this possible. Thank you for choosing to study science at school, thank you for studying hard at university  and choosing to undertake research into rare viruses that are dangerous and difficult to understand, thank you for competing for those elusive grants, thank you for persevering when your experiments went wrong time and time again, thank you for not giving up, but instead to have kept striving to overcome the interminable problems that you definitely encountered over the years, thank you for believing in the importance of your work when very few people in the world even knew what you were doing. You are wonderful and I and all HCS salute you.

While our gratitude goes to the research scientists above, it also goes in equal measure to all of you equally anonymous NHS scientists, who are my colleagues, for essentially the same reasons. You also took the time to study for many years in subjects that most people had never even heard of, never mind understood the critically important role they play in keeping them healthy. You and your families made sacrifices and eschewed more lucrative arenas of employment to work in healthcare because you were interested and wanted to do something that you felt was important and worthwhile. Thank you and I hope you are justifiably so proud of your professional choices, cos the rest of the country is very proud of you.

On a personal level, I am literally amazed that friends and family now not only can spell Immunology, but they happily chat to me about PCR tests and the nuances of antibodies over a ‘socially distanced’ cup of coffee or on walks. Neighbours ask me about how many scientists work in our local hospital and how come they had not heard of them before? Every day, scientists are accorded the same status on news programmes as senior politicians and people listen to them carefully and treat their advice with respect and trust. COVID has changed public perception of scientists. We no longer occupy that dubious position of the ‘geeky boffin in the white coat’ who uses big words and does clever stuff that yeah, it may be important, but nobody needs to try to understand it. All that has changed. In the public domain, science and scientists have come of age.

COVID Thank you

As we continue into the second Spring and Summer of COVID, with the spectre of a third surge occurring at Summers end, thank you healthcare scientists for the tireless, brave and brilliant but exhausting scientific work you are doing. Back at the School we will continue to work hard to contribute to the effort of all healthcare scientists and as always know that we admire and are so grateful to all of you for going into hospitals and other Trusts every day.

In2Science

This is the right place to introduce an initiative that we have been working up in the School and with HCS within NHS Trusts since the beginning of COVID and which you will be hearing more about in the near future. There are many young people in our society who would love to have the opportunity to study science and who would be wonderful talented scientists but who simply have never considered the possibility that they could study to be a scientist. In2Science is a charity that ever year gives over 500 school students the opportunity to take part in life – changing STEM placements. To date, these have been in universities and in industry, but with our incredible network of HCS across the country, we would like to join in this vitally important project and see if we can’t help guide and show some of these students the scientific opportunities that a career in healthcare science could bring them. So look out for more information on this and if you want to get involved in setting this up with us, contact Katie Foster at the School. Further information about In2Science is available on their website.

Black Lives Matter

We continue with our work at the School to ensure that equality and diversity including BAME issues are front and central to our work going forward. We will very shortly be meeting with the STP BAME Trainee group for our third meeting and look forward to working on a regular basis with this hugely committed group of healthcare science trainees on many initiatives that will help the education and training of healthcare science to be more transparent and fairer to everyone. Within the School in HEE, we continue with:

  • our Internal School Diversity committee – we meet monthly and welcome ideas from trainees on issues that you would like to see tackled in the continuing education and training of healthcare science
  • many staff in the School have received and all will receive training on equality and diversity
  • an examination of all that we undertake and publish in our communiques to ensure that we respect and welcome people and ideas from all backgrounds and cultures

There is a dedicated page on our website where information about the BAME STP trainee network and how to join can be found.

In the month when the trial of a police officer over the death of George Floyd has opened, it is more important than ever that we continue to be aware of and discuss issues around equality and diversity and some of the issues we openly discuss in the School and will discuss with the BAME STP network include:

  • recruitment, specifically how to improve outcomes for BAME applicants
  • equality and diversity for trainers – ensure that trainers are trained in Equality and Diversity. Jas Daine at the School has produced a programme for this training
  • apprentices in Healthcare Science

Healthcare Science apprentices are continuing to train and contribute not just to the COVID-19 response but are fulfilling everyday commitments. In this COVID pandemic, more and more apprentices are coming through and many thanks to all of you and to your support network of departments, trainers and supervisors in your Trusts. Graham Wilson as our apprenticeship lead and Boota Singh as our End-point Assessment lead will continually update information for you. Look on our frequently updated webpage for developing information.

PTP students

This pandemic has affected all of us in different ways. For undergraduate students, I acknowledge how difficult and frustrating it has been. Your education has been so affected, and the experience of being a student has been altered enormously. Thank you for persevering, please keep going, it will be worth it in the end. Keep looking on the website for information. Graham Wilson is keeping in touch with all your universities and please let us know if you need us to help in any way. Further information can be found on our website.

STP Trainees

2021 Recruitment to STP

As I write this, I know that most of you will be aware of the issue that was encountered during the application process for STP places for 2021. There was a failure in the technological platform delivering the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) which was, for the first time, part of the recruitment process. It was a failure of the 3rd party platform provider and it was especially upsetting and unfortunate as we were utilising the SJT in response to the fact that our evaluation had shown that our previous online long listing tests discriminated against applicants from BAME backgrounds, and we wished to address this.

The failure of the technological platform resulted in the test being withdrawn leaving the School with no method of reducing the applicant pool for shortlisting. When applications closed in 2021, 6277 applications had been received for 24 specialties.

What the School did

The School responded to the issue as quickly as possible in a number of ways:

  • issued an explanation and apology to all applicants and outlined that we would be shortlisting all applicants due the failure of long listing
  • issued an explanation and apology to scientists in proposed departments awaiting a trainee
  • communicated via our website and also by emails and by HCS channels on social media
  • from the beginning of this situation, the School ensured that it worked with HEE to make sure that the correct approach and the correct messages were communicated externally

Proposed solution

After reviewing options, the School concluded all applications should go to shortlisting. This was the fairest way to ensure that ALL applicants were given an equal chance to compete in the application process.

The only way to achieve this was to increase the pool of short listers and significantly increase the shortlisting period. Shortlisting opened sooner than planned and the planned two-week shortlisting window was extended to six to eight weeks, pushing the interview stage back by about a month thereby allowing employers to complete their processes for a September start. Communications calling for additional volunteers were targeted specifically at the specialties where there were shortages of short listers.

Through our networks, the School put out a call or additional volunteers. These actions resulted in over 1,129 responses to help to shortlist.

Thank you to all of you who responded. From both a personal and a HCS system viewpoint, it was an astonishing and heartening response to an urgent situation. As Head of School, I have tried hard to position the School as the central facilitatory organisation in HEE for education and training for all HCS in the NHS, we exist to work on behalf  of and with HCS. The immediate response from colleagues to this serious crisis gives me cause to believe that we are all working together to a common end and we are all doing our very best to play our parts. So, thank you.

Impact on applicants

The re-engineered process will not disadvantage any applicant and will be a positive advantage for applicants who would otherwise have been eliminated through long-listing.  All applications will now be scrutinised by two experts. ‘Blind’ shortlisting is used, eliminating bias in terms of equality and diversity issues.

Webinars

Look out in the coming months for a repeat of the webinar question and answer sessions for current STPs and in case you missed the last ones, you can find them on our YouTube channel.  Jane Lynch and Namir Al Hasso, your STP Training Programme Directors are always on hand to help with problems and we are trying to respond to all your queries and publish the continually updated FAQs on our website. Please keep reading the School reports, monthly information sheets and check the website.

This continues to be an extremely challenging time for you to be training , both  professionally and personally. I acknowledge the stress you are all under and on behalf of the NHS and patients thank you for persevering and being as adaptive and as resilient as I know you are being. We are constantly updating our health and wellbeing support offer. We recently made the case for and have now recruited a new person dedicated to the wellbeing and support of trainees and you can contact her at Katherine.Bayley@hee.nhs.uk. Katherine will join the programme support team in the School and please do contact us if you need support and help in your training. Look for updates about support on our website.

The Midterm Review of Progression (MRP) has just been completed by those of you in your second year and the School has now analysed the responses and this has shown us that that many of you, not all, have and continue to have difficulties in trying to access some training. We will be organising support calls and discussions with many of you and be assured that we are speaking to professional bodies and universities and will be as flexible and as helpful as possible to address these important issues.

For all 3rd year STPs who continue to train and are now working to complete, I can reiterate what I said in my last blog which was that the 2020 high stakes assessment which had to be devised rapidly in response to the pandemic was remarkably successful and evaluation should reassuringly high comparison with the previous OSFAs. The Education and Assessment team under our new head Carol Higginson have now met on a number of occasions with lead station writers and other scientific colleagues and together they have devised a newer improved high stakes assessment for those who will complete in 2021. Details of this assessment and key dates can be found on our website.

HSST Trainees

I hope that the first year HSST cohort are settling in well during this difficult time for the NHS and I also hope that you are enjoying the wonderful Leadership and Management course at the University of Manchester.

We know that all of you HSST scientists  are working in hugely challenging roles many in high level and responsible positions. You are greatly appreciated and as I said above thank you. We are continuing to work closely with MAHSE and HEE to ensure that any alterations to your programme that arises as a result of the current crisis are understood and provided for. Look here for the latest information from us. Again, thanks to all of you HSST trainers during this time.

Leadership for STP Trainees

Within the STP curricula, there are many aspects of what is needed for developing Leadership skills, our new curricula will highlight and strengthen these even further. However, given the crucial and proven importance for healthcare scientists to have leadership skills woven into their understanding of their professional roles, we have researched and are developing a stand-alone Leadership course that can be delivered online that initially we will offer to STP trainees in their second year. This is the Leading through Education to Excellent Patient care (LEEP).

We are in the process of training the faculty to deliver this leadership course and  we will be providing you with further information on this course throughout the year. We envisage that this course and the skills and learning that you will gain from it will absolutely complement and dovetail with the STP curricula so look out for information on this.

Curricula Review

I am not going to say too much about this enormously weighty and essential work, except to once again say thank you to all the scientists from all of our scientific professions who have contributed their time, energy and expertise to seeing this through to the end. A huge thank you especially to Chris Fisher who has overseen this incredibly complex project for us all. Look out for the results of the stakeholder’s feedback on the new curriculum content which will be published very soon.

News from around the School and abroad

HEE/D4D/CSO Innovation Fellows

This fellowship was launched last year, and the first 4 fellows started in February 2021. Congratulations to all of them and we wish them luck in this exciting new venture.

Respiratory Physiologist wins National Apprenticeship award

Janine Pring, a Respiratory Physiologist Apprentice at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) was awarded UNISON Apprentice of the Year at the annual ‘Our Health Heroes Awards‘ for her integral role in keeping staff and patients safe during COVID-19 with the essential fit testing of Personal Protective Equipment. Congratulations from all of us Janine and brilliant to have as part of our profession.

New electronic Healthcare Science Leadership Journal sponsored by the Academy of HCS

The first edition is now available and is packed with news and views from the world of healthcare science. Many congratulations to the AHCS and especially to Shelly Heard and Keith Ison who are its editors, we look forward to many more issues.

I promise not to leave it so long to write my next blog, as there is lots more news to let you know about but for now, have a lovely Easter, take care of yourselves and stay in touch with us.

Very best wishes

Berne