27 February 2020

Haematologists are finding it increasingly difficult to undertake vital diagnostic work in the laboratory according to a new College survey - The haematology laboratory workforce: challenges and solutions.

Haematologists provide laboratory, clinical and consultative services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While a large amount of a haematologist’s time is spent providing direct clinical care to patients, they also have a crucial role in diagnostics. A significant part of the workload of many haematologists involves diagnosing and caring for patients with conditions and diseases such as leukaemia and genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease, thalassaemia and haemophilia.

Professor Jo Martin, President, The Royal College of Pathologists said:

‘Having the time to undertake diagnostic work in the laboratory is vital. The expertise of haematologists is central to patient management and care; for example, by advising GPs and doctors in other specialties on the best tests to perform, and interpreting and communicating the significance of the test results.

'As demand and workloads increase, for haematology consultants to continue to provide diagnostic laboratory services, including laboratory diagnostics, interpretation of test results and liaison with other medical professionals, there needs to be a commitment by the NHS to support and expand these services. This has implications for the workforce.’

The survey which was sent to clinical directors and heads of haematology departments across the UK between December 2018 and September 2019 also found that there were difficulties recruiting to consultant posts, both medical and clinical scientists, as well as specialty and associate specialist (SAS) grade posts. The College has published a new strategy to support SAS doctors.

The haematology laboratory workforce, challenges and solutions briefing: a meeting pathology demand briefing, goes on to make key recommendations to maintain the service including:

  • improved recruitment into training and early exposure to pathology. The College has undertaken a range of initiatives to influence medical students through increased exposure to pathology in the undergraduate curriculum.
  • supporting the consultant workforce. Because of the dual nature of the role of medically qualified haematology consultants, job plans should be written to ensure that there is sufficient time set aside specifically for laboratory duties.
  • employing and developing more clinical scientist roles in district general hospitals
  • encouraging retired colleagues to return. Of the 407 haematology consultants in post, 19 were noted as having ‘retired and returned’.
  • IT systems that are fit for purpose - pathologists need better IT for day-to-day work, including modern, functional laboratory information management systems (LIMS), voice recognition support and remote working software for multidisciplinary teams.

To support the specialty, the College is also making the following commitments:

  • to support and promote the need for expansion of medical and clinical scientist trainee and consultant numbers in haematology to Health Education England, the government and the devolved nations
  • to work with the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board (JRCPTB) to ensure an appropriate balance of clinical and laboratory training in the haematology curriculum • to promote the recruitment and development of clinical scientists to assist in running laboratory haematology services
  • to work with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to continue to press for the implementation of a long-term UK-wide solution to the NHS pension tax issue for the benefit of patients
  • to continue to call for investment in pathology IT and infrastructure.

Download the briefing: