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Appendix 1

Analysis of ultrasound workforce survey

Executive Summary

In September 2009, the Society of Radiographers (SoR) surveyed NHS ultrasound departments in the UK about the recruitment, training and retention of the ultrasound workforce. 45 managers answered a range of questions about their workforce on behalf of their departments in an online questionnaire. This document presents an analysis of the survey and the following bullet points highlight the main findings from the 45 departments responding to the survey:

  • In the NHS year 2008/09, the number of examinations per department had increased on average by 1,848 (7.9%) since the previous year.
  • Assistant practitioners are employed in 6 (13.3%) of the ultrasound departments.
  • Seven (12.3%) of the available sonographer training posts are unfilled.
  • The average department is currently employing one Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) qualified sonographer for around every 4,250 examinations per year. Two thirds of departments expect to employ more qualified sonographers over the next two years.
  • The number of qualified sonographer vacancies as a percentage of the total number of qualified sonographers is 10.1% (headcount) and 11.7% (WTE). Twelve (26.7%) departments state that the vacancies in their department have lasted on average for more than six months.
  • One third of the qualified sonographers are due to retire in the next ten years.
  • 106 (28.3%) of the qualified sonographers suffer from Musculo-Skeletal Disorders.

1. Introduction

This document presents an analysis of an online survey in September 2009 of NHS ultrasound departments in the UK. The aim of the survey was to gather information on the recruitment, training and retention of the ultrasound workforce. Department managers were asked about staffing levels in their departments and associated information.

The SoR emailed as many managers in NHS ultrasound departments as possible asking them to participate in the survey. The survey was also circulated to SoR representatives in ultrasound departments and publicised in the monthly e-zine Top Talk. 45 complete responses were received from across the UK. We estimate that this is over 20% of ultrasound departments in the UK and, therefore, forms a useful sample.

2. Profile of departments responding to survey

In the NHS year 2008/09, the number of examinations in the 45 departments responding to the survey ranged widely from 1,463 to 98,000 and had increased on average by 1,848 (7.9%) since the previous year. Most departments stated that the nominal time per examination had not changed over that year.

The table and graph below illustrate that responses were received from ultrasound departments across the UK, each generally performing more than one type of ultrasound.

Geographical spread of departments responding to survey
Country / Region Number of departments
responding
 
Percentage of all
departments responding
East of England 3 6.7%
East Midlands 1 2.2%
London 4 8.9%
North East 6 13.3%
North West 4 8.9%
Northern Ireland 2 4.4%
Scotland 5 11.1%
South East 6 13.3%
South West 6 13.3%
Wales 1 2.2%
West Midlands 4 8.9%
Yorkshire and the Humber 3 6.7%

 

3. Assistant practitioners

Assistant practitioners are employed in six (13.3%) of the ultrasound departments responding to the survey. One of these departments dominates the statistics in the table below as it employs 16 of the 30 assistant practitioners recorded in the survey.

Assistant practitioners in ultrasound
  Total from 6 responding
departments employing
assistant practitioners
Number of assistant practitioners
employed in ultrasound (headcount)
30
Number of assistant practitioners
employed in ultrasound (WTE)
24
Number of assistant practitioners
actively scanning (headcount)1
0

1 Assistant Practitioners in ultrasound have their role defined in the document: 'The Scope of Practice of Assistant Practitioners in Ultrasound'. This is available online to SCoR members at http://doc-lib.sor.org/.

4. Sonographer training posts

Just over half the departments responding to the survey have sonographer training posts, with 7 out of the 57 available training posts unfilled.

Sonographer training posts
  Total from all 26 responding
departments with training
posts
Number of sonographer training posts
(headcount)
57
Number of these sonographer training
posts currently not filled (headcount)
7
Percentage of sonographer training posts
not filled
12.3%

5. Qualified sonographers

5.1 Staffing levels
 
The number of qualified sonographers employed in each department ranged widely from 1 (0.4 WTE) to 25 (16.6 WTE). The overall headcount across the 45 departments was 375 (271.9 WTE) qualified sonographers. Two thirds of departments responding to the survey expect to employ more qualified sonographers over the next two years, with only 2 departments believing that their number of qualified sonographers will diminish.

The graph below shows examinations carried out in a year per WTE qualified sonographer in each department. The figures do not allow for vacancy rates or for examinations carried out by radiologists, so the figures do not represent the number of examinations that can be carried out by each qualified sonographer each year. However, it does demonstrate that the average department is currently employing one WTE qualified sonographer for around every 4,250 examinations per year.

5.2 Vacancies

Slightly under half of the departments responding to the survey currently have vacancies, with 12 of these departments stating that the vacancies in their department had lasted on average for more than six months. The number of vacancies as a percentage of the total number of qualified sonographers in all responding departments is 10.1% (headcount) and 11.7% (WTE).

Total number of qualified sonographer vacancies in responding departments
  Qualified
sonographer
vacancies
Percentage of total number of
qualified sonographers in
responding departments
Headcount 38 10.1%
Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) 31.7 11.7%

5.3 Overseas recruitment

Eight departments (17.8%) had recruited sonographers from overseas in the past two years from various countries (see the table below). Six departments (13.3%) thought they were likely to recruit from overseas in the next two years.

Countries recruited from in the last two years
Country Number of departments recruiting
from that country
Australia 2
Canada 1
Egypt 1
India 2
South Africa 5
Venezuela 1

5.4 Retirement

One third of the qualified sonographers in the departments responding to the survey are due to
retire within the next ten years.

Forecast retirement of qualified sonographers over next ten years
How many qualified sonographers
are due to retire …
Total
headcount
Percentage of total number of
qualified sonographers in
responding departments
within the next 1 – 2 years 21 5.6%
within the next 3 – 5 years 32 8.5%
within the next 6 – 10 years 72 19.2%
     
TOTAL in the next 10 years 125 33.3%

5.5 Musculo-Skeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Only seven departments responding to the survey report no MSDs among the staff groups concerned. Overall 28.3% of the qualified sonographers from the responding departments suffer from MSDs. 

However, there is a positive note from one of the seven MSD-free departments: “Since we have gone to an extended working day working with a tandem arrangement for the sonographers, they are now scanning less patients per day, mostly now scanning every other patient on the list and also only scanning 4 days a week WTE, MSK problems have disappeared.”

Prevalence of MSDs
Staff group
Number
with MSDs
Percentage of total number of
that staff group in responding
departments
Assistant practitioners working in
ultrasound
 
0 0
Training sonographers 3 6.0%
Qualified sonographers 106 28.3%

6. Comments

Managers responding on behalf of their departments had the opportunity to submit general comments relating to the recruitment, training and retention of the ultrasound workforce. A number of themes were raised by more than one manager and are listed in the table below. The most frequent issues cited were the difficulty recruiting staff and concern over MSDs.

Analysis of free text comments from respondents
Theme raised by more than one respondent
Number of respondents
Illustrative comment
Difficulty recruiting staff 12 “We have advertised a Lead Practitioner
post several times over the last 2 years with
no applicants.”
 
MSDs are a problem 7 “RSI is a major issue and will only get worse
due to staff shortages and increasing
workloads.”
No staffing problems 5 “We have no problem in any area. The staff
are happy, fulfilled and well supported. We
have a very low turnover. Usually posts
become vacant due to retirement.”
Waiting time targets increase pressure 5 “Waiting time targets make it difficult to accommodate training posts”
Retention not a problem 5 “We have no problems with retention in the department”
No progression beyond band 7 4 “For the responsibility and skills a
sonographer has to have the banding is
wrong. The trainee sonographer should be
at Band 7, qualified sonographer at Band
8a.”
Lack of funding for training for sonographers 4 “Funding for training is an issue”
Backfill for radiographers to train as sonographers 4 “Unable to get backfill for the post, to the
detriment of the x-ray side of the department.”
Supporting training puts pressure on department 3 “The ultrasound lists are too busy to be able to spend adequate amounts of time training
people to a good standard whilst trying to
maintain waiting lists.“
Consider direct entry access to the profession by degree & preceptorship 3  “I believe that a direct entry ultrasound degree should be offered with a 4th year
preceptorship in clinical practice at band
5/6 and the PGDip awarded  at the end of
this year (providing requirements are met).”
Agency sonographers paid more 2 “Agency sonographers are paid more hence staff moral down.”
Not valued as a professional group 2 “Not valued as a professional group even though most times they work and report to
the standard required of a radiologist,
obstetrician and or a gynaecologist.”
Scanning also undertaken by radiologists 2 “A significant amount of scanning is also undertaken by the radiologists.”

 

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