A Boon for British Biomedicine?
IBMS Chief Executive David Wells gives us the low-down on the Biomedical Scientist Long Term Workforce Plan
George Francis Lee | | 6 min read | Interview
Many organizations and groups are responding to the dearth of laboratory professionals through numerous projects, initiatives, and campaigns. We spoke with David Wells, Chief Executive at The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS), to learn more about the organization’s efforts to develop the laboratory workforce in the UK – and to discuss what lies ahead.
What exactly is the Biomedical Scientist Long Term Workforce Plan?
The Plan presents a bold strategy for the UK to develop the biomedical scientist workforce to operate at the highest levels of practice through training, experience, and professional qualifications.
It was produced in response to the NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan published earlier this year and as part of our long term strategy to develop our policy and engagement with the government for each of the four UK nations.
Whilst we welcomed the commitments of the NHS England Long Term Workforce Plan, we are committed to ensuring that the biomedical scientist workforce will be featured and a key part of its successful delivery. Our plan outlines how to support and upskill the biomedical scientist workforce in a manner that is safe, efficient, and meets nationally recognized standards for the whole of the UK. It will give the 27,000 biomedical scientists registered in the UK the support and opportunities they need to keep pace with their rapidly changing profession and their patients’ growing needs.
How was the IBMS involved at the UK’s political party conferences this year?
Whilst the House of Commons was in recess, we were busy pushing the Plan at both the Labour and Conservative UK party conferences. We hope to influence the manifestos of both parties as they get ready for a general election next year.
At the Conservative Party Conference, we hosted a panel session called Unleashing the diagnostics revolution – how biomedical science holds the key to life saving early diagnosis, that focused on the impact of diagnostics and our biomedical science workforce. At the Labour Party Conference, we ensured that copies of our Plan were in the hands of the Shadow Cabinet, including the Shadow Health Minister.
These efforts are just part of our strategy to promote our post-pandemic profile and to develop a policy and engagement capability at government level for each of the four nations.
The pandemic illustrated where the profession and the diagnostic community struggled to get its voice heard. Hard-fought inroads were made by our President and others on the IBMS Council to raise the organization’s profile. To guide, influence, and contribute to biomedical science and patient care, the IBMS has been establishing its own capability to be on the front foot with politicians, governments, and policy in the four home nations.
Since 2022, we’ve been working with PLMR, a team of PR experts who are helping us to engage with people at the highest levels of politics. Their appointment as our policy advisors has been a huge success in terms of reach and building a stage in which to influence government across the four home nations. We have built additional capacity to respond to calls for evidence and consultations, and we have ensured that our profile has not dropped as the pandemic has waned – making sure that our members’ voices are heard.
What ground was covered in the “Unleashing the diagnostics revolution” panel discussion?
The panel discussion focused on how the technological advancements and workforce capacity within the biomedical science sector has the potential to dramatically increase the UK health sector’s ability to deliver earlier diagnoses – ensuring that patients are expedited into the right pathways quickly and efficiently.
As well as myself, speakers included Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Lord Markham CBE; Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, Stuart Carroll; member of the Cancer APPG, Greg Smith MP; and Mark Eastwood MP.
Other discussions focused on:
- Employment gaps in the biomedical science sector and the need to generate a pipeline of talent through education and skills training/upskilling to secure medium- and long-term market needs, as well as funding for the biomedical science sector to further diagnostic research.
- The important contribution that biomedical science makes to identify, research, monitor, and treat diseases across the broadest areas of modern science.
- The potential for an expanded diagnostic capacity to accelerate processes around laboratory testing, crucial to enhancing healthcare outcomes through early diagnosis and therefore supporting efforts to manage NHS backlogs and waiting times.
- The potential for an expansion of diagnostic testing to community care settings to expedite patients into the right pathways and avoid hospital conveyance in order to free up limited NHS resources.
How do you hope to influence future policy making through discussions with figures like Lord Markham CBE?
To better support the NHS in overcoming the challenges facing healthcare in the UK, the IBMS intends to continue to champion the biomedical sector and raise the profile of the potential the profession holds. Through continued engagement with figures such as Lord Markham CBE and other relevant politicians and policymakers, we can demonstrate how biomedical science can expedite patient care and maximize limited resources to relieve pressure on the NHS. With proper investment and strategic planning, the biomedical science sector can provide the answers to many of the issues within the UK healthcare system.
The IBMS are fully committed to working with governments across the four nations and all other relevant groups to ensure effective policies are introduced to realize the full range of opportunities presented within the sector. This includes the expansion of community care testing to triage patients into the correct pathway more quickly, an increase of diagnostic capacity within NHS settings to reduce backlogs of patients awaiting diagnosis, a long-term workforce plan for biomedical scientists to ensure a sustained pipeline of talent and capacity within the sector, and continued funding for the sector to allow the UK to remain at the forefront of innovative diagnostics and patient care initiatives.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
To ensure that the IBMS can support the biomedical science workforce for the future within the UK and across the world, we’ve been undertaking many changes with our qualifications. We now offer more qualifications that cover more disciplines and we are looking at opening some of them to other professions.
Over the next few years, registered nurses will be accepted on to our Point-of-Care Testing qualification, and the Laboratory Information Technology and Clinical Informatics CEP will be open to non-scientific individuals who are managing or working within laboratory IT and responsible for supporting laboratory IT systems.
For the first time, we are developing advanced qualifications in molecular pathology and andrology, as well as developing new hematology qualifications.
Finally, we are in consultation with biomedical science organizations outside of the UK to find ways that we can support their training and development.