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This week we celebrate Healthcare Science Week in the UK, which runs from the 5 March to 14 March 2021.
There are over 50,000 healthcare scientists working in the NHS and public health in the UK. They are the scientific anchor of the NHS, and their work stretches from academic research to directly patient-centred services.
The role of a healthcare scientist is to prevent, diagnose and treat illness using their scientific and technical skills. There are four main areas of healthcare science: life sciences; physiological sciences; physical sciences & biomechanical engineering and bioinformatics.
Life Sciences covers Pathology, Genetics and Reproductive Science. A Healthcare Scientist working in Life Sciences might help couples with IVF treatment, or work in a hospital laboratory to diagnose patients arriving in A&E. They also work within organisations like NHS Blood and Transplant.
The roles in physiological sciences range from supporting those with asthma or cystic fibrosis in respiratory physiology, to diagnosing deep vein thrombosis, strokes or aneurysms in vascular science.
In neurophysiology these Healthcare Scientists will use their expertise to diagnose and monitor conditions such as epilepsy, viral encephalitis, or meningitis.
Healthcare Scientists will be experienced in using ultrasound, radioactivity, magnetic resonance, electromagnetism and optical imaging to investigate the functions of the body of a patient, in order to diagnose, monitor and treat any illness, such as cancer.
This area is data-driven. Its concern is developing and improving methods for acquiring, storing and analysing biological data with the purpose of supporting patient care.
This might be in the field of genomics, for example the 100,000 Genome Project.
In March 2020, the pandemic arrived in the UK on a significant scale. Overnight, Healthcare Scientists found themselves with a common target: Covid-19. Within weeks, the unfolding crisis illuminated the crucial services which Healthcare Science provides, and the numerous ways it underpins the NHS.
At the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare scientists were redeployed into critical care for Covid-19 patients. This was in countless ways as individuals assessed their abilities and ‘upskilled’ themselves to support critical care teams.
For example, respiratory physiologists and cardiac scientists have supported patients needing intubation and ventilation and have joined the teams carrying out urgent diagnostics. Those working in life sciences – particularly virology, microbiology and molecular pathology – have undertaken vital work within Covid-19 testing, and the science of decontamination and isolation. Genomic counsellors have joined palliative care teams within hospitals to manage end of life care and support relatives. All of these individual roles fall under the umbrella of Healthcare Scientists.
Perhaps the most visible role we see healthcare science playing is in our vaccines. Healthcare scientists have a direct role in vaccine immunology, and in the control and prevention of epidemics.
The speed at which healthcare science has been applied to vaccine discovery for Covid-19 is truly ground-breaking. Usually, it takes an average of ten years to develop a new vaccine. At the date of this blog just shy of a year into the pandemic, we have no fewer than 23 vaccines approved in various countries. The most well-known being the AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which have been used to protect (by a first dose at least) 22,592,528 people in the UK.
The astonishing advances in medical science this past year will reverberate into the future, and affect attitudes to the role of healthcare science and technology in modern medicine. Healthcare Science will remain at the cutting edge of the effort for better treatment, for example by diagnosing cancer or a stroke at the earliest opportunity, and to ensure patients have the best chance of recovery.
At Kingsley Napley we celebrate good health care. We also recognise that sometimes things don’t work as they should. If you are concerned that the care you, or someone you care about, has fallen short of what you expected then please contact a member of our team on 020 7814 1200.
Phoebe Alexander joined Kingsley Napley in 2020. She is currently a trainee solicitor in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team. Her previous seat was with the Private Client team, where she assisted with the administration of trusts and estates, and the drafting of Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Phoebe also assisted with Court of Protection matters, including the drafting of Deputyship applications.
Terrence Donovan is the Head of the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury Department. He has a national reputation, and is one of the most respected and senior solicitors in the field.
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