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Scanning the sonography workforce

Tagged In:  Sonography

A new review of the ultrasound practitioner workforce gives the most complete picture of the profession ever published.

Around 10 million ultrasounds scans are carried out each year by the NHS in England. Most are performed by sonographers, yet there have been few studies of this large and vital section of the healthcare workforce. To support future workforce planning, the Department of Health and Health Education England (HEE) commissioned the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) to carry out an ultrasound practitioner workforce review, surveying and interviewing stakeholders and experts, as well as modelling the current and forecast demand for sonography jobs. The review covers the period up to December 2015 and was published in March this year.

Sonographers specialise in the use of ultrasonic imaging devices to produce diagnostic images, scans and videos. They are part of a group of healthcare professionals known as ultrasound practitioners, which also includes those who may occasionally perform ultrasound scans, radiographers, sonographers, midwives, physiotherapists, obstetricians, physicists and clinical scientists.

The CfWI review found that the majority of core sonography staff work in radiology or diagnostic imaging departments, with 'diagnostic radiographer' being the most common job title.  At the time of the survey, the rate of vacancies for sonography jobs was around 10%.
In 2014, the Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR) warned of increasing demands on the ultrasound workforce, particularly for newer areas of work provided mainly by sonographers, such as musculoskeletal (MSK) ultrasound examinations, evaluations of deep thrombosis and carotid artery investigations. Sonography has been on the MAC Tier 2 shortage occupation list for the last five years.

As with nurses and midwives, the majority of the ultrasound workforce are women.  Around 33% of all women who provide ultrasound services are aged 50 plus, providing an additional workforce planning challenge.

While the CfWI review is the most comprehensive ever, it is based on a limited sample, which the organisation admits may not be representative of the whole of England. The total makeup, size and age profile of the ultrasound practitioner workforce remains unknown, mainly because the profession is not regulated and there is no single definitive source of data.

That being said, the review has been welcomed as an important tool in workforce planning. "This work was commissioned by HEE as part of on-going work to help solve the sonographer shortage, " said Nigel Thomson, Professional Officer for Ultrasound at the Society of Radiographers (SOR). "It gives the most complete overview so far published of the complexities of ultrasound service delivery. The report is well worth reading for all involved in delivery of ultrasound services."

Read the full review here.

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