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‘Severe staffing crisis’ in laboratory medicine – HSE review

By Catherine Reilly - 26th May 2024

A HSE survey found over 60 per cent of medical laboratories in public acute hospitals reported an inability to meet local and/or national turnaround times (TATs) – with ‘inappropriate IT/automation’, ‘staffing’, and ‘space’, the three greatest challenges being experienced.

Details of the survey are included in the HSE’s Review to Inform the Strategic Direction of Laboratory Medicine, which is dated January 2024. The survey was conducted during 2022.

The HSE review referenced a “severe staffing crisis” in the face of increasing demand and urgency in catching up with care delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Laboratory medicine was experiencing an “unsustainable level of vacancies, which is already leading to reduced level of service, increased out-sourcing, and delayed turnaround times”.

The Irish laboratory medicine workforce was “excellently trained”, but sufficient quantities of highly and appropriately trained staff are required to implement and integrate new best practice technologies, which are technically and scientifically demanding.

“This spans all laboratory disciplines, and without such developments, many specimens will continue to be outsourced, resulting in continued service fragmentation and unnecessarily prolonged turnaround times.”

The HSE is currently finalising a strategy for laboratory services for the period 2025 to 2029. It had not commented by press time.

Meanwhile, the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) has expressed its concern about situations where individuals without the appropriate qualification have been appointed to medical scientist posts, in light of the shortages. These appointments may be made using ad-hoc titles.

MLSA Vice-Chair Mr Kevin O’Boyle said the extent of this practice is not yet known, but it “is going on unfortunately”. The MLSA was due to meet with CORU to discuss these concerns. It is understood the HSE has also issued a communication relating to the matter.

‘Medical scientist’ is a legally protected title and practitioners must hold CORU registration.

A CORU spokesperson said it cannot comment on enforcement cases under investigation. “Misuse of a protected title is a rare occurrence, but it has happened and has led to criminal convictions. We encourage all employers to ensure that the medical scientists that are in their employment are fully registered by checking the medical scientists register on www.coru.ie.”

A Department of Health spokesperson told MI: “The Minister for Health is committed to working closely with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the HSE to ensure that the conditions are in place to support further growth in healthcare professions, including increasing the supply of medical scientist graduates.”

They added: “A sponsored medical scientist training scheme continues to be under consideration by the Department of Health and the HSE.  Funding for any such initiatives will be considered in the context of the 2025 Budget and Estimates process.”

The spokesperson also stated that the Minister and HSE are “committed to the development of medical scientist roles”.

See news feature, Laboratory medicine under the microscope – Medical Independent

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