Making the case for statutory registration

Pandemic spotlights the need for statutory registration, and the government’s ability to deliver it

The demands placed on the UK’s health infrastructure by COVID-19 have further highlighted the need for clinical technologists to become registered professionals, according to the Institute for Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM). Such a move will help deliver better patient outcomes and optimise service delivery within the NHS.

Clinical Technologists perform several physics and engineering roles in healthcare, including in nuclear medicine, radiation physics, radiotherapy physics, rehabilitation engineering, radiation engineering and renal medicine. They can assist in performing complex procedures on patients, operate and manage specialist medical devices and prepare treatments such as radioactive injections. Their work is critical for patient safety and welfare:

“Their work is complex, technical and sometimes invasive. They can often work alone in patients’ homes, or in hospital settings without direct supervision, so it is absolutely vital their knowledge, skills and professional competence be maintained to the required standards to keep the public safe”. says Iain Threlkeld, Registrar of the Register of Clinical Technologists (RCT), a voluntary register. “What they do may not even be fully understood by managers or colleagues in a clinical team, so they have to be able to rely on the professional integrity of the clinical technologist.”

The COVID crisis has underlined the need for clinical technologists and medical professionals to be able to rely upon each other and work with greater flexibility. At the peak of the crisis many registered radiographers and clinical scientists - already occupations experiencing shortages - were either off sick with COVID or redeployed to cover gaps in the hospital service elsewhere. Nuclear medicine technologists, under the current regulatory regime, were not legally able to step up and help by doing the job they are trained for because they were not statutorily registered. Being a registered healthcare professional would enable them to undertake a range of activities such as giving intravenous drugs, including radioactive drugs, and arranging additional imaging such as PET-CT and SPECT-CT, which are normally done under the direction of a registered health care professional.

Clinical Technologists do not just look after existing technology either. As Covid-19 has vividly demonstrated, they work in fast-moving areas of medical care, where scientific and engineering solutions to patient needs and treatment pathways are constantly developing.

In ultrasound sonography, a recent BBC News investigation uncovered serious diagnostic errors in obstetric scans, some of which were conducted by unregistered sonographers. This has led to questions on the welfare of mother and foetus. The Care Quality Commission has said that there is good quality care in the industry but it now has a "growing concern".

The RCT and the Society and the College of Radiographers (SCoR) recently announced that the Public Voluntary Register of Sonographers (PVRS) will transfer to the former in February 2021. The RCT requires its 2000+ members to re-register each year and commit to continuous professional development and to abide by the RCT Code of Conduct.  Though many of those working in the field are already eligible for statutory registration through their existing professional qualifications via the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), SCoR, or the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), a significant number of sonographers do not have these routes available to them. By transferring to the RCT they will become part of a Professional Standards Authority (PSA) accredited register which is committed to pursuing statutory registration for all its registrants.

Says Iain Threlkeld, RCT Registrar:

“The RCT is an Accredited Voluntary Register, but voluntary registration does mean that individuals are still able to practice unregistered. They can also continue to practice even if removed from the voluntary register or sanctioned by their employer. We believe they should be subject to statutory registration for the protection of the public.”

Professor Stephen O’Connor, President of IPEM, commented:

“Since 2011 government policy has been set against the statutory regulation of new aspirant professional groups. However with initiatives such as the Nightingale hospitals, the pandemic has showcased the government’s ability to act quickly when need is proven. Statutory registration addresses a real issue by optimising patient outcomes and supporting better service delivery within the NHS, not just at this crucial time but over the long term. IPEM, together with the RCT, SCoR and other stakeholder organisations, will continue to press the case for the statutory registration of all clinical technologists.”