Sonographer Career Development Update

15th May 2019

Where are we now?

As I am sure you will be aware Health Education England (HEE) have been working with key stakeholders in the ultrasound world on a sonographer workforce project. This work has been on-going for a number of years which reflects the complexity and challenges faced when trying to define a sonographer profession within an existing, but somewhat ill-defined, workforce. What may have appeared to be a relatively simple task in the outset has become a multi-faceted project requiring sub-groups to review and challenge preconceived ideas and established practice whilst developing a realistic alternative.

2018 saw real progress in this project. HEE commissioned CASE to review existing accreditation processes as well as produce supporting documentation outlining the learning outcomes required at the emerging undergraduate education route. This project was signed off in June 2018 after a tremendous effort by the authors and review group. The outcome of this has ensured that CASE has standards by which it can measure and accredit ultrasound education as well as providing guidance to the Higher Education Institutes who will be formulating and delivering new programmes.

In addition to this essential document the steering group of the HEE project, which comprises representatives from BMUS, CASE, HEE, RCR, SCoR and the sonographer apprenticeship trailblazer group, produced a document which clearly defines the vision for “The Future for NHS Ultrasound Service Provision”. This document is the anchor for the HEE project. Work related to this project has to align with this vision to ensure the future standard of care for our patients can be delivered.

To safeguard our future profession, and deliver patient care, we need to ensure there is a sustainable, motivated, trained and supported sonographer workforce. Earlier work within the HEE project has highlighted the significant workforce gap which exists and something has to be done to bridge this. The development of an undergraduate route into the sonography profession has to be considered alongside, not in replacement of, existing routes if the profession is ever going to have sufficient numbers of sonographers available to meet growing demand. The steering group however is completely aware of the concerns that an undergraduate programme raises and this has led to the HEE project developing a structured and deliverable career progression framework for sonography. This framework does include an undergraduate entry level into the profession but it also describes post graduate entry and, importantly, describes the development route through the profession to advanced and consultant practitioner level. The framework is closely aligned to the CASE educational standards and the steering group vision document. The existing norm is challenged but as the existing norm is not providing sufficient numbers of sonographers perhaps this is the time for the profession to embrace change?

Despite all the activity in 2018 the project is far from complete. The third aspect of the steering group project is to define the progress through the sonographer career framework from first post, career level 5, through to career level 7 and beyond. This provides an exciting opportunity for BMUS to work with fellow key stakeholders to clarify and advise on future career opportunities for new and existing sonographers.

There are, of course, two real and significant issues that still need to be addressed and resolved; training capacity and regulation. These very important issues are not being ignored.  Indeed, HEE are working hard to produce a case of need for sonography statutory regulation that can be submitted to government - the evidence is compelling, but the process is protracted. The second significant issue is training capacity; how are all these sonographers of the future to be trained? Where is the capacity to do this? How will it be funded? Big questions which are difficult to answer. However, this is being addressed with a sub-group specifically looking at options and opportunities for the future.

However, these options and opportunities, developments and challenges all rely on a profession wide response and buy in. These cannot be met purely by the individuals involved with the projects both on a national and local level alone. A recent article by Sevens & Reeves published in Feb 2019 (Radiography 25 (2019) 77e82) summarised that there is a perceived lack of national leadership and that these issues raised, whilst real, are for a national “body” to sort. This perception has to be challenged. The national “body” that can sort this is the profession as a whole.  Sonographers will need to buy into the need to train future staff, regardless of how hard this can be. Additionally, sonographers also need to buy into the need for a defined career progression framework and the opportunities that are available to the advanced practitioners and consultants of the future.

As for leadership, HEE are taking this workforce project very seriously. They have a mandate “to ensure the NHS has available the right number of trained staff to deliver current and future demand for diagnostic tests”.  By working with a collaborative, profession wide approach this can, and will, be delivered.

On behalf of BMUS, I will continue to advise, steer, and encourage (some may say coerce) multi-professional working to deliver the very best in terms of a sonographer profession and defined framework of which we can all be proud.


Pam Parker

President Elect

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