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News archive - September 2014

Lack of NHS engineers putting patients at risk

Lack of NHS engineers putting patients at risk

A lack of experienced qualified engineers within the NHS is putting lives at risk, according to a new report.

The low priority given to the training and recruitment of NHS engineers is leading to problems caused by faulty medical equipment and cancelled operations, says the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in its new report, Biomedical engineering: advancing UK healthcare.

The document calls for urgent action to prioritise the role of engineers in the NHS, and to introduce a chief biomedical engineer in every acute trust.

The association claims that boosting the number, as well as the influence, of engineers will help reduce the number of incidents caused by faulty medical equipment. In 2013 13,642 incidents relating to faulty medical equipment were reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, leading to 309 deaths and 4,955 people sustaining serious injury. These incidents can vary from faulty pacemakers to faulty equipment like CT or MRI scanners used to make diagnoses. This faulty equipment, or the unavailability of it, is also one of the major causes of cancelled operations.

Dr Patrick Finlay, lead author of the report and chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Biomedical Engineering Association, said: “Government and the NHS need to take urgent action to prioritise the role engineers play in hospitals and trusts.

“Technology is leading to huge advances in healthcare, but this technology is dependent on the work of biomedical engineers who are inadequately recognised and in short supply in most hospitals.

“It is vital that engineers are at the heart of the planning, procurement, use and maintenance of high-value equipment, as well as its calibration. It is only with engineers that properly-informed choices on these issues can be made in the best interests of patients and taxpayers.”

The report featureskey case studies from UK academia and industry and makes four recommendations for change. As well as appointing a chief biomedical engineer, it calls for the introduction of a single, dedicated funding programme for biomedical engineering research through UK research councils; and states that industrial and taxation policy should promote long-term investment in biomedical engineering to encourage domestic development and manufacturing.

It also wants to see a common device regulatory and approvals regime and harmonisation of patent legislation in medical devices.

Dr Finlay said: “This report demonstrates some of the exciting ways engineers can revolutionise healthcare. But, in order to reap the full benefits that technological advances can offer UK healthcare, and the NHS specifically, the people who design, make, maintain and use these pieces of equipment need to be heard.”

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