In conjunction with employers and professional bodies (Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology and British Sleep Society), the National School of Healthcare Science has developed 2 new training pathways to meet future workforce needs which will open to trainees in 2023.

The national report for NHS England by Professor Sir Mike Richards, Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need “for radical change in the provision of diagnostic services”.

  • More than 80% of all patient pathways interact with diagnostics services.
  • As we recover from the pandemic the NHS faces its longest waiting times ever.
  • Workforce is the single rate limiting factor to increasing capacity and meeting demand.
  • In order to deliver on the Richards Review of Diagnostics we need to:
    • Invest in growing the diagnostic workforce as an essential enabler to delivering the report.
    • Adopt innovative ways of making the best use of our current workforce, as well as implementing new staffing models and use of digital tools to support optimal use of the skills and experience of our diverse workforce
    • Adapt and develop new programmes and courses to quickly grow the workforce ensuring quality of training and education to deliver the right people with the right skills.
    • Increase the number of training positions across all modalities and establishment positions.

The Diagnostic Workforce Physiological Sciences Pillar explored the workforce needs in 2021 and determined that nationally, vacancies in respiratory services vacancies stood at 545 WTE, with total gap to fill by 2027 (inc retirement and growth) of 647. Sleep services were estimated to have WTE vacancies 192, with a total gap to fill by 2027 (inc retirement and growth) of 450, with 230 level 2/4, and 220 Level 6 or higher.

New workforce and education models are required to ensure a sustainable pipeline of staff with the specific knowledge and skills required for respiratory and sleep services. Multiple systems of support are required to ensure successful implementation of this model including educational and practice/clinical supervision.

The Getting it Right First Time (GIRFT) Respiratory Report 2021 noted “too few applicants for physiology training, leading to a gap in the workforce” and includes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Optimise respiratory outpatient services by reducing DNAs, limiting unnecessary follow-up, considering increased virtual consultations, one-stop clinics and moving care closer to home.

Recommendation 7: Increase the use of Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing (CPET) with interpretation by senior physiologists to manage breathlessness and determine patients’ fitness for major or complex surgery.

Recommendation 23: Address variations in service delivery and meet the needs of the local population by staffing respiratory departments with the appropriate number and skill mix of doctors, specialist nurses, physiologists, and allied health professionals. “Where advanced diagnostics are required, ensure there is sufficient numbers / skill mix to deliver results in a timely way to achieve the 6-week RTT target”.