Health CommitteeWritten evidence from Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Science (ETWP 46)

The Heads of University Centres of Biomedical Science (HUCBMS) represents over 50 university departments offering degree programmes and engaged in research in biomedical science. It is affiliated to the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) and the Society of Biology.

HUCBMS welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Health Committee for its enquiry into Education, Training and Workforce Planning. Our remarks are confined to the education and training of biomedical scientists, the majority grouping of scientists in the NHS. We would wish to make two points, one generic and one which, we believe, follows logically from the first:

1.For obvious reasons including unpredictable external forces, internal pressures, policy shifts and innovation, workforce numbers planning has proved to be an extremely inexact activity in all professional areas in which it has been undertaken. It is essential therefore that the relationship between employers and providers (the universities) should be close and informed. It should also be based, where possible, on a model which seeks to avoid a fixed and expensive one-one relationship between university entrance numbers to specific programmes and the anticipated number of local NHS vacancies. This argues for the desirability of undergraduate programmes leading to careers in the NHS having structure and content such as to lead to other career outlets and thus avoiding “stop-start” university recruitment due to local funding perturbations. This is also desirable academically. (We accept that this is easier to achieve in the NHS-related science disciplines than in medicine, nursing or the therapeutic professions).

2.We have contributed to various discussions and deliberations relating to the Department of Health Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC) initiative and have welcomed its stated intention to “provide a career framework for healthcare science professionals by providing an education and training programme that is clear and coherent—enabling individuals to move throughout healthcare science without being sidelined and avoiding risk of career dead ends”. However, as set out in an article (attached) published in the January 2011 edition of The Biomedical Scientist, we feel that that there has been a slavish adherence by the MSC team to the introduction of degree programmes with the unattractive generic title “healthcare science” with insufficient attention being given to acceptance of other more marketable and financially less expensive programmes eg biomedical science. Biomedical science degree programmes meet, at least, the same learning and training outcomes proposed for “healthcare science” but because of their high demand and greater and more flexible career opportunities, can be offered at lower unit costs. This is particularly important at a time of financial stringency within the NHS and where recruitment to NHS posts is likely to be low.

Note: Biomedical Science degree programmes are extremely popular with students and employers as they produce highly skilled and flexible graduates and offer a wide range of career options, one of which is working as “biomedical scientists” in NHS laboratories. Biomedical Science degrees, approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC) as meeting their education and training requirements for registration as a biomedical scientist, include professional training as an integral part of the programmes. There are 39 HPC-approved Biomedical Science undergraduate programmes available throughout the United Kingdom. There are also a range of Masters programmes and professional doctorates available in biomedical science as well as a comprehensive offering of continuing development programmes accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science.

December 2011

Prepared 22nd May 2012