An opinion article from Christian Burt, Secretary to the AAPT Council
It was 2003 that the Association was formed. And never has the saying “from little acorns” been more apt, for you fantastic APTs.
I’ve been providing support to the AAPT for over a decade now. My role at the IBMS is Professional Support Services Manager, a wide remit that includes professional registration of biomedical scientists, and, therefore, I wanted to pen an opinion piece on the options available to APTs for becoming registered professionals.
AAPT achievements in Education & Training
This year the AAPT ticked off yet another major job on the to-do list with the announcement that the new Level 4 Diploma in Anatomical Pathology Technology would be taking a first cohort of students in September this year*
*Chester University is sure to be inundated with applicants: so register interest ASAP
So, thirteen years on from formation, the AAPT has now overhauled an outdated qualification structure, and in doing so, protected the profession from those who may have wished APTs to be grouped with less-than-technically skilled workforces in healthcare.
In turn the public benefit from these new fit to practise technologists in mortuaries across the UK, with the Level 3 Diploma in Anatomical Pathology Technology providing the fundamental knowledge for trainee APTs to have long and fulfilling careers. Students are assessed not only in the classroom, but also their practical skills are verified using a network of APT assessors – trained by the AAPT, with they themselves assessed for their own practical skills.
Protecting the public and peers
In addition to an overhaul of the education and training of mortuary staff, there was another fundamental aim of the AAPT to achieve: statutory registration of APTs.
The AAPT believe that the general public and APT colleagues in mortuary environments should be protected through a mechanism by which to raise concerns about individual practitioners on a register backed by law.
A medic can be struck off a medical register and not permitted to practice, likewise biomedical scientists and many other healthcare scientists registered with the HCPC. The AAPT has always maintained that the exact same protection for the public should be in place for APTs.
So where and how can an APT become professionally registered?
Looking first at the Academy for Healthcare Science, this has been the register that the AAPT has primarily promoted. In order to become an assessor of the Level 3 & 4 Diploma in Anatomical Pathology Technology, a condition is that you must be ACHS registered. This also applies if you wish to stand for nomination as an AAPT Council member.
Why did the AAPT make this a requirement? The message since day one from the AAPT has been consistent and clear: APTs should be a profession that is regulated by statute. And, at the time, it would seem the VRC, and subsequently ACHS, would be the independent voluntary register to lead APTs to the holy grail of statutory registration.
Since the transfer from the VRC to the ACHS, uptake has stalled, with not many more than 70 APTs registered with the ACHS. On an anecdotal level, APTs have also reported back to the AAPT on the lengthy process and occasional confusion in making an application to the ACHS.
But, to now refer to the title of this opinion piece - let’s be honest here - Statutory regulation of APTs is not going to happen anytime soon.
And, it will not simply be the case of transferring from the ACHS to the HCPC.
How can I say this with confidence? Well, the HCPC viewed APTs as a profession that should be registered; John Pitchers (AAPT Vice-Chair) and I were told as much at an informal meeting at the HCPC headquarters. There is, however, no current political will or assessment of APTs for the long-winded process of making an application to even start.
For those who are observant, you may well have noted that the word voluntary seems to have vanished recently in relation to registration, and been replaced with professional. Subtle, but in many ways this has provided choice for APTs, as there is more than one professional register.
A personal viewpoint
I believe that the requirements for being an assessor or Council member should alter slightly; and instead of specifically requesting ACHS registration, this should instead be changed to professional registration as I feel there are alternative registers to consider.
The AAPT should not, again, just my opinion, only promote one register, when for example, there are the Science Council professional registers that offer registration at three levels: Chartered Scientist, Registered Scientist and Registered Science Technician.
Indeed, several APTs are now registered with the Science Council, and there is potential discussion to be had with the Science Council as to partnerships to offer APTs professional registration.
Recently the Biochemical Society entered into agreement with the Royal Society of Biology to co-license: in broad terms this means there is now a precedent for a smaller group such as the AAPT to enter into an agreement with one of the larger Licensed Bodies of the Science Council.
Important: AAPT is not giving up on statutory registration – quite the opposite!
Many of the building blocks are in place if regulation of aspirant groups were to once again gain momentum: AAPT has a CPD scheme that will be improved upon with the new website, allowing for on-line recording of activities and reflection. APTs have a clearly defined career pathway, with robust and modern qualifications that are independently assessed.
The AAPT has met with MPs on the issue – and will continue to do so. AAPT has regularly communicated the consistent message of the need for statutory regulation to stakeholders such as the Human Tissue Authority and will attempt to keep up-to-date with the Law Commission.
The AAPT message of statutory registration of APT staff will not change – and surely this is refreshing, when in 2016, at least in the UK, change is suddenly the norm (I’ll save referendums for another day!).
I’d welcome APT views, and other healthcare scientist opinion, on the professional registration of APTs – email firstname.lastname@example.org