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Hannah Pickard, first apprentice of the scheme

Exeter in pioneering initiative to train radiographers in the independent sector

A community diagnostic centre in Somerset is set to become the first independent facility in the UK to offer conventional apprenticeship training to student radiographers, thanks to a unique partnership between Rutherford Diagnostics, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Exeter.

In a move to address the growing skills shortage facing the sector, the new model means that apprentices are now able to take part in a three-year BSc (Hons) in Diagnostic Radiography and Imaging through the University of Exeter, which, on top of their studies, will see them based between Rutherford Diagnostic Centre Somerset (independent) and Musgrove Park Hospital (NHS).

This degree-level apprenticeship, means that in addition to the academic support provided by the university, the trainee will have a significant amount of work-based learning via employment in a wide variety of healthcare environments throughout the duration of the course. By making this possible through Rutherford Health, it provides Somerset NHS Foundation Trust the added value of increasing its potential workforce capacity through additional skilled work-experienced graduates. 

The new diagnostic apprenticeship model at the Rutherford Diagnostic Centre will run in addition to the existing apprenticeship programme which the NHS Trust runs at Musgrove Park Hospital which is now in its third year.

Prior to Covid-19, a recruitment crisis already faced the sector. Today it is estimated that the UK needs 4,000 new radiographers to keep up with demand, with 90% of hospital patients requiring radiography. Early evidence suggests that expanded recruitment will meet barely half the anticipated demand.

Jill McKenna, Head of Imaging and Operations at Rutherford Health, said: “Protecting radiography training is vital – it is such a key part of a patient’s diagnostic journey. Our profession was under huge pressure prior to the pandemic, and that has only been exacerbated. Now is a critical time for radiography and medical imaging professions, both in the NHS and independent sector, to enhance our training provision to nurture our future workforce.

“Across the country we need more diagnostic radiographers to keep patients safe, and as an organisation we are committed to securing an enhanced pipeline of entry using our new apprenticeship framework. There has never been a more important time for innovative partnering, and we are thankful to the NHS Trust and the University of Exeter for helping to make this happen.

“This apprenticeship provides diagnostic radiographers with an exceptional level of training, education and on-the-job experience. We’re very proud, even in a small way, to be helping the nation’s shortage of radiographers and hope to see this programme grow.”

The demand for imaging services has largely driven by rising hospital attendances, more direct requests from GPs and broader clinical indications for existing technologies, such as CT scanning. Last year, it was identified in an NHS England report by renowned cancer specialist Professor Sir Michael Richards CBE, that the UK must radically improve its diagnostic services.

The students will begin their course this week, which coincides with National Careers Week.

Adam Turner, Head of Imaging for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, added: “We have been training radiographers through the degree apprentice route for a couple of years now and found that their integration within the department is hugely beneficial and offers a robust alternative to the traditional university-based degree route.

“The Rutherford Diagnostic Centre will offer students and apprentices from the Trust additional placement areas and in turn, we will offer Rutherford trainees the required acute hospital experience. The unique nature of the partnership with Somerset Foundation NHS Trust allows Rutherford, as an independent provider, to grow their own talent, supporting a sustainable model for workforce growth. We’re really excited about the opportunities that this offers both organisations.”

Hannah Pickard, a 33-year-old from Devon, will become the first apprentice to be trained through this new apprenticeship initiative at Rutherford Health. She said: “After initially studying graphic design, it’s safe to say my career journey to this point hasn’t exactly been conventional. In 2017 I started working in the radiography department at Weston General Hospital and moved onto Rutherford Diagnostic Centre Somerset in October last year as a radiographic assistant. I quickly found that my passion lay in diagnostics and immediately wanted to learn more.

“I wasn’t actually aware of the apprentice scheme when I applied for my job, and only learned about it a few months later. I was delighted to be accepted onto the course by the University of Exeter and I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to study while also working in both an acute care and private setting.

“I’m really excited to get started. I have a lot to learn, but it’s an area of medicine that is close to my heart and I already know from my time working in this space that there is never a dull moment. I find radiology fascinating – there’s so much you can do.”

The Rutherford Diagnostic Centre Somerset in Taunton is the first community diagnostics centre of its kind in England – run by Rutherford Diagnostics Limited, a subsidiary of Rutherford Health plc in partnership with Somerset NHS Foundation Trust. The partnership was formed to keep pace with the significant increase in demand and aims to reduce the number of NHS patients who are waiting too long for a diagnostic test and support timely diagnosis. 

Date: 16 March 2022

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