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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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Healthcare Science Week highlights behind-the-scenes experts who make hospital tick

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When you have a blood test, who does the testing?

Usually, it's not a doctor or nurse, but a scientist working behind the scenes to support clinical staff.

Nationally scientists make up five percent of the NHS workforce, yet they provide input that contributes to 80 percent of all diagnoses.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) employs around 700 clinical scientists and recruits around 10 trainees every year.  

They might be physicists looking at MRI scans or working in radiotherapy; geneticists testing for rare or common conditions; they might be vascular scientists, respiratory scientists or even engineers. Across the UK, the NHS's 50,000 healthcare scientists work in more than 50 different areas of science.

Over the coming week 9-18 March 2018, staff at OUH will be marking Healthcare Science Week, the annual week-long programme to promote the amazing work of healthcare science professionals and highlight the difference they make to patients' lives.

Training programme

There will be stands at our three Oxford sites to let the public and staff know about the contribution of healthcare scientists: on Monday 12 March in the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, in the ground floor foyer; on Tuesday 13 March in the main entrance of the Churchill Hospital; and Wednesday 14 March at the John Radcliffe Hospital opposite the League of Friends Café.

Each stand will be staffed by people on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), who will discuss how working in the NHS is a rewarding career choice for young scientists.

One STP who has been organising the stands is Jennifer Easton, who works in transplant immunology, carrying out crucial pre- and post-transplant testing.

She said: "Nurses and doctors do amazing things on the front line. However, we're also an essential cog in the machine, and many patients are not aware we're there."

A wide range of disciplines is represented on the STP, a three-year training programme that ensures that within each specialism, everyone has the same training. The first year is rotational, so trainees can experience working in different departments.

OUH Lead Scientist Malcolm Sperrin said: "Clinical scientists are a very diverse staff group, having roles in radiology, radiotherapy, genetics, physiology and many other areas. Scientists are a crucial component of virtually all pathways and furthermore play a vital role in clinical and pure science research.

"The use of science in healthcare is already broad, and increasingly so as new disciplines such as genomics and artificial intelligence emerge. The career is highly rewarding and well remunerated, with very many opportunities for involvement in first-hand patient care," he said.


Another second-year STP, geneticist Deniz Ucanok, said: "We're behind the curtains, but we do have a lot of contact with clinicians, where we discuss patient cases. We never see the patients but we have an important role in their care process.

"When you're in academia, you're more removed from the patient pathway, so you don't necessarily see the bigger picture. But when you're in the clinical setting you see the impact of your work much more clearly, so you know that those tests that you're doing are going to benefit someone's life," she added.

All people on the STP are expected to be involved in innovation and research and have to do a Master's project, so they also work closely with academia. 

Jennifer said: "We know what needs to be done, and they have the funds and the time to do it. We have access to the patient population, and patients are really keen to get involved in research; academics can't access that, but we can - so forming those links between academics and patients is a cool part of this job."