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Healthcare science: essential to the future of health  

Joe Neame Subject Specialist, Science  

Healthcare science is constantly adapting and changing. With over 50,000 healthcare scientists working in the NHS across more than 50 specialisms, they make up the largest group of scientists within the UK. As healthcare scientists are responsible for around 80% of all diagnoses within the NHS, along with providing the scientific basis for safe and effective therapies, their demand looks only set to increase in response to the pandemic. 

There were over 4 million patients in England awaiting treatment, with 2 million currently waiting on surgical treatment. As we start clearing this backlog, healthcare scientists will be inundated with diagnostic tests and requests for safe and effective treatment and care. 

They’ll also have to adapt to the vast amount of biomedical research currently being undertaken in response to the long-term health consequences of Covid-19. All this comes after playing an integral role in responding to the pandemic, including performing mass testing, adapting standard operating procedures in line with new social distancing guidance, and continuing to carry out vital tests for essential treatments.  

Multiple challenges 

Aside from the pandemic, healthcare scientists have always faced multiple challenges. For example, having to balance reducing service costs with the need for more expensive treatments and technologies that improve patients’ treatment and outcomes. This is all done while staying up-to-date with the most current and relevant research.  

Currently, healthcare scientists are adapting to advances in a wide range of research and health technologies, whether that be more advanced diagnostic radiology equipment, new pathology diagnostic techniques or advances in analytical toxicology.  

Advances in clinical genetics and clinical bioinformatics has also led to various changes within healthcare, including the introduction of personalised medicine. Personalised medicine presents healthcare scientists with the huge challenge of ensuring treatment is targeted to each patient.  

Where are the skills gaps? 

With all the advances in technology in an ever-changing landscape, there are inevitably skills gaps that appear within the sector. Healthcare scientists, like all who work in health, are constantly learning to address these gaps but there’s no doubt that more healthcare scientists will be needed in the coming years.  

This increase in the number of healthcare scientists will look to support the current diagnostics, therapies and treatment deficit, as well as plug the skills gaps introduced as techniques and procedures become more advanced.  

Healthcare science is central to the future of health, and only through making sure we have the healthcare scientists we need, can we address the health challenges of the future.