A LEADING healthcare scientist has warned that the profession is being “hamstrung” by lack of awareness and investment.

Dr Jo Horne, who works at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS), is among the experts who help prevent, diagnose and treat a large number of medical conditions.

The profession plays a vital role but Dr Horne says it is not being afforded the same opportunities as other areas of the NHS.

Healthcare science includes more than 50 specialisms including the investigation of disease, the development of new treatments and the creation of new medical technology.

Dr Horne said: "There's still a general lack of awareness about the roles of people working in healthcare science in the NHS – despite more than 50,000 of us now in post – and that's a real threat to progress.

“Healthcare scientists are not afforded opportunities to develop their clinical and academic careers - or obtain research funding - in the same way medics and nurses are.

“This may be due to historical working practices, a lack of nationally-funded training schemes or a lack of knowledge of our existence and roles."

Dr Horne warned that some areas of the profession were being hamstrung as a result.

Citing the need to boost recruitment she added: "Feedback nationally tells us there are barriers to creating posts for healthcare scientists while the same barriers often don't exist when creating posts for medics, nurses or managers."

UHS, which has more than 350 healthcare scientists, is at the forefront of several national projects.

These include the development of automated clinical image processing software and the creation of advanced clinical practice roles which aim to help colleagues diagnose conditions more quickly.

“NHS England is encouraging all trusts to introduce lead healthcare scientist roles and we've done this at UHS,” said Dr Horne.

“This ensures, at the very least, the healthcare science workforce can be brought together to get greater and wider representation in the same way that doctors, nurses and allied health professionals do.

“The challenge now is to push for more leaders, continue to raise the profile of the profession and secure its future by addressing shortages in the workforce nationwide.”

Dr Horne first raised the issue last September, saying healthcare scientists were often called the "hidden workforce".

She added: "Even within the health service people don't always know who we are.

"I like to gently remind people that the NHS is not just doctors and nurses."