Ultrasound physics workforce is overworked and under-appreciated, says new survey


ULTRASOUND services are being provided by an overworked and under-appreciated workforce, a new survey has found.

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine’s (IPEM) Ultrasound Workforce Survey was conducted earlier this year, with some 60 NHS Trusts and organisations across the UK who provide ultrasound services invited to respond.

It revealed an ultrasound physics workforce which has not grown with an increased demand for the service and is under significant stress, with little capacity or resources for training.

High vacancy rates

The other main finding was a vacancy rate in ultrasound physics of 23 per cent for clinical scientists and 14 per cent for clinical technologists – a significantly higher figure than for other medical physics specialisms.

The aim of the survey was to identify the extent of the workforce gap within ultrasound physics to help IPEM’s Ultrasound and Non-ionising Radiation Special Interest Group develop a new workforce model.

The workforce issue prompted almost 76 per cent of respondents to say the current staffing provision is insufficient, raising concerns about improving the workforce provision via training due to staff capacity. Without intervention to support effective and comprehensive training opportunities and workforce input, it is feared this problem will only worsen, as 17 per cent of the workforce are approaching retirement age.

Faulty probes

The survey findings about the issues concerning the workforce exacerbate the findings of an earlier study by IPEM Fellow Dr Nick Dudley, Director of Research and Standards at Multi Medix Ltd, and IPEM member Darren Woolley, a Director of Multi Medix Ltd.

Their 2016 survey of the condition of ultrasound probes found more than one in three were faulty, potentially compromising patient safety, primarily due to undetected defective or poor-quality ultrasound probes and scanners in clinical use.

IPEM’s survey comes hot on the heels of the Institute’s recently released statement on the current workforce shortfalls and recruitment outlook within the wider medical physics and clinical engineering (MPCE) community, which called for urgent action to be taken to address the shortages in this crucial part of the healthcare system.

There was widespread disappointment that the long-anticipated NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published just before the NHS celebrated its 75th birthday, offered little to tackle the critical workforce issues in medical physics and clinical engineering.  

‘Urgent need of support’

Sarah Matthews, of IPEM’s Ultrasound and Non-ionising Radiation Special Interest Group, said: ‘The results of this survey demonstrate the ultrasound physics workforce is in really urgent need of support, in terms of improving training opportunities to fill existing vacancies and develop/consolidate the current workforce, and in justifying the creation of further established posts.’

Dr Jemimah Eve, IPEM’s Head of Workforce Intelligence and Training, added: ‘Without swift and effective action, the ultrasound physics workforce will decrease further, thereby stretching an already over-worked and under-appreciated workforce and further compromising patient safety and care.’

Ultrasound Workforce Summary Report 2023
Dr Nick Dudley 'Condition of ultrasound probes' survey
IPEM statement on the Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering workforce