Funding for engineering biology welcome – but does not address underlying workforce issues


A PLEDGE of £2 billion to fund engineering biology over the next 10 years has been welcomed – but it does not address the underlying workforce shortages in healthcare science.

Andrew Griffith MP, the Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation, made the announcement about funding for engineering biology. He said biological sciences are a strength of the UK and engineering biology is powering the next revolution in this field.

Engineering biology is one of the five critical technologies identified in the Science and Technology Framework, which was published by the government earlier this year. The other technologies identified in that are:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Future telecommunications
  • Semiconductors
  • Quantum technologies.

A huge range of applications have been identified for engineering biology and from these, the government sees the significant economic opportunities for the UK in health, agriculture and food, chemicals and materials and low carbon fuels.

Workforce shortages

Dr Anna Barnes, IPEM’s President, said: ‘While this funding for engineering biology is welcome, it does nothing to address the workforce shortages within healthcare science in general and medical physics and clinical engineering in particular which IPEM has been consistently reporting on for many years.

‘It needs to be remembered such advances in technology rely on this workforce to ensure rapid adoption into clinical service of such innovations.’

As an example, Dr Barnes said clinical engineers played a crucial and vital role during the Covid-19 pandemic in developing advice and guidance on ventilators, from converting anaesthesia machines for use in intensive care to considerations that needed to be considered when hospitals received an offer of donated equipment.

IPEM members produced a guide for human factors issues to help the many design and engineering companies who were pressed into action to develop ventilators for the first time. Member Professor Dan Clark was awarded the OBE for services to clinical engineering for working with the Cabinet Office, the RAF, NHS England and Improvement, and the Department of Health and Social Care to evaluate the thousands of pieces of equipment that were rapidly brought in to support the NHS Covid-19 patient surge.

Dr Barnes said: ‘These examples show how vital a role the medical physics and clinical engineering have in delivering modern healthcare. Additional funding is always welcome, but we need the government to address the workforce shortages we have been highlighting for years.’

Engineering biology