NHS must tackle gap in technology skills, warns EBME expert

The NHS is currently in a ‘technological meltdown’ as a result of decades of under-investment in technology, warns Dr. John Sandham, chairman of the EBME Expo.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Clinical Services Journal, Dr. Sandham said that EBME and IT departments are on a “collision course”. The knowledge gap between the two disciplines needs to be addressed if the NHS is to succeed in its vision for a digital future. 

As technology advances, there is a trend for increased intelligence in medical devices and a need for interoperability with hospital software systems. However, the NHS’s ageing fleet of portable and fixed assets are proving challenging to connect into organisational IT systems and significant investment will be required to tackle the issue. 

Dr. Sandham estimates that 99% of equipment in hospitals isn’t connected (despite many devices having the capability). He believes this is an important opportunity for the NHS because medical device and IT connectivity has the ability to transform patient care and reduce mortality. 

He  commented that NHS executives “must ensure adequate planning has gone into specifying, setting up, and testing that different technologies actually ‘talk’ to each other – thus leading to improved clinical outcomes and productivity.” 

Despite the high stakes, when it comes to achieving connectivity, there is a huge gap in knowledge and expertise across most hospitals, he warned:  “EBME departments are having to evolve their IT skills; doctors and nurses want connected clinical information systems, not individual, standalone devices – they want information at their fingertips, accessible from their mobile phone. It is imperative that electro-biomedical engineers learn how to enable this. 

“Their IT colleagues also need to learn about the medical equipment. This is not something they have traditionally had to do. There is a need for the two disciplines to meet somewhere in the middle.”

He believes the Government and universities need to address the current gap in skills to ensure effective implementation of connected technologies. 

“If the NHS wants to accelerate its technology ambitions, it will need to upskill its electro-biomedical engineers,” asserts Dr. Sandham. He believes there is a need for investment to create a new role for ‘EBME project managers’: 

“There needs to be more senior roles for electro-biomedical engineers and there needs to be a willingness to learn additional skills. Rather than focusing on the day-to-day asset management and maintenance, the role of ‘EBME project manager’ should focus on technology development ,” commented Dr. Sandham.   

“In the long-term, there is an opportunity for electro-biomedical engineers to take the lead in this field – it is the future. Because the technology is moving so quickly, the profile of the electro-biomedical engineering profession is now being raised. For the first time, EBME is at the top of the board’s agenda,” he concluded.

The in-depth interview can be read in the March edition of The Clinical Services Journal

The EBME Expo will discuss many of the issues raised by Dr. Sandham, which takes place April 29-30th 2020, at the Marshall Arena, Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. For further information on the conference and exhibition, visit: www.ebme-expo.com