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Home » Oncology » Addressing shortfalls within the ‘hidden’ cancer care workforce

Dr Anna Barnes, PhD, FIPEM, CSci

President, IPEM

It is increasingly vital to boost the cancer care workforce in the NHS and encourage new students to take up training.

Medical physicists, technologists and clinical engineers are the backbone of cancer care delivery. These highly trained scientists diagnose and treat patients and are an essential part of the healthcare team alongside radiographers, oncologists and nurses.

Medical physicists, technologists and clinical engineers

Dr Anna Barnes, Consultant Clinical Scientist and President of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM), says: “These roles are both multifaceted and crucial for the safe and effective delivery of a multitude of services underpinning the NHS.”

They carry out technical assurance tests, radiation safety checks, implementing quality control measures and optimising machinery with the use of computer-aided design. “They programme how treatment delivery machines provide the exact amount of radiotherapy needed while avoiding non-cancerous cells,” she adds.

Referring to their role as ‘the oil in the wheel,’ Dr Barnes explains they are a vital part of designing and planning treatment schedules within radiotherapy, molecular radiotherapy and nuclear medicine while translating research into clinical workflow. According to IPEM, medical physicists and clinical engineers contribute to 45% of all treatments within NHS hospitals.

The UK does not have enough
healthcare scientists, engineers and
technologists to deliver essential services.

Challenges of the workforce

Dr Barnes explains: “The UK does not have enough healthcare scientists, engineers and technologists to deliver essential services.” While those currently in the workforce are asked to ‘do more and more with less and less,’ it is also increasingly difficult to train new members of staff.

“To maintain this extraordinary level of expertise, it is essential that we have enough new people coming through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and into training routes now,” she insists.

Supporting healthcare scientist roles

Dr Barnes, passionate about addressing these challenges, speaks of IPEM’s role as the workforce’s professional body. “We provide a community for healthcare scientists, industry and academic colleagues to share ideas and best practices, to promote the profession and encourage more people to consider it as a career,” she says. Additional funding and student uptake can help tackle workforce shortages and recruitment issues, helping this ‘hidden workforce’ to be recognised.

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