SoR calls for urgent consideration of sonographer regulation

Letter sent to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Published: 03 November 2021 Sonography

The SoR has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care asking for urgent consideration of sonographer regulation.

Signatories included the Association of Child Protection Professionals, British Medical Ultrasound Society, British Society of Echocardiography, College of Radiographers Patient Advisory Group, Consortium for the Accreditation of Sonographic Education, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Radiologists and the Society of Vascular Technologists.

The timing of the letter coincides with news of additional NHS funding for diagnostic imaging equipment in the October budget. In the letter we highlight the need for an appropriately qualified workforce to perform highly skilled ultrasound examinations to meet current and future demands for ultrasound imaging.

Workforce concerns

SoR chief executive Richard Evans wrote in the letter to Sajid Javid: ‘We welcome the announcement of significant capital funding for medical imaging equipment. Our concerns focus on the workforce to perform these highly skilled examinations, particularly in medical ultrasound imaging.

'Using current models of education and recruitment we are unable to deliver the workforce at the pace and scale needed to meet increasing demands and the backlog of examinations, and risk further depleting the radiography workforce.

'Sonography regulation was last considered in the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) report, published in 2019. The PSA concluded that sonographer regulation should be reviewed when there is a need or an increase in non-registered sonographers from international and local recruitment. We believe that time is now.'

Existing strategies to increase the sonographer workforce include direct entry ultrasound programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level, alongside overseas recruitment. These options increase the number of sonographers who are unable to gain statutory regulation in the UK, thus limiting their scope of practice and career development opportunities.

Examples were provided to emphasise how statutory regulation might reduce the risk to patients, because the regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council, reviews educational qualifications and English language proficiency and oversees fitness to practice processes. Had statutory regulation of sonographers been available, it might have mitigated against ‘poor quality reporting and interpretation of scans’ highlighted in a 2021 Clinical Harm Reviewreport, which led to the review of more than 1,800 cases.

Development of innovative educational programmes of study for sonographers in the UK has stalled due to the lack of statutory regulation, widening the gap between current staffing levels and workforce needs.