For over 10 years, the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has collected key clinical radiologist workforce data from clinical directors across the UK to identify trends, issues and make evidence-based recommendations. With a 100% response rate, this year’s data reflects the workforce as it actually stood on 1 September 2021.
Our 2021 census reflects an increasingly worrying picture of staff shortages, leading to increasing workforce pressures impacting on patient safety and quality of care provided for patients resulting in reduced retention. Until these issues are resolved, backlogs will continue to rise, and patient outcomes will continue to be adversely affected.
The consultant radiologist workforce shortfall currently stands at 29% (1,669 whole-time equivalents). The current workforce is under immense pressure through this understaffing, and we estimate that without further investment, this will increase to 39% (3,166 WTE) by 2026 factoring in rising demand.
The total number of UK whole time equivalent (WTE) consultant radiologists has increased by 225 consultants, or 6% of the workforce from 3,902 in 2020, to 4,127 in 2021. More consultants have entered the UK CR workforce, but not enough to address the overall shortfall.
We welcome the increased numbers of interventional radiologists (IR), with a further 43 consultants (6% growth), but this increase is not enough to address the IR shortfall which is estimated at 28% (288 WTEs). Interventional radiologists carry out critical minimally invasive procedures, reducing the requirement for surgery and its associated risks and recovery time. Failing to address this shortfall will impact on the backlog and patient outcomes.
The funded vacancy rate is still high at 10% (436) of available CR posts; this figure has remained relatively unchanged over the past five years. Furthermore, there are still more than 200 posts which have been vacant for over a year.
The UK has a growing reliance on international consultant radiologists; the percentage of doctors who obtained their primary medical qualification outside of the UK has increased from 29% in 2016 to 35% in 2021.
98% of clinical directors are worried about workforce morale, stress and burnout in their departments, all of which impact negatively on workforce retention and patient safety.
There are growing concerns about patient safety. 97% of clinical directors said they are concerned about the backlogs and delays patients are experiencing; 81% cited worries about patient safety.
There are growing concerns about IR, with 55% of clinical directors telling us that they do not have sufficient numbers of interventional radiologists to deliver safe and effective patient care. Half of trusts and health boards do not provide 24/7 IR services which has a detrimental impact on emergency care, patient safety and outcomes.
Demand for complex imaging is high following the pandemic, but the upward trend was already occurring before 2020. Imaging is central to diagnostics and is the key to correct, efficient and effective treatment. Simply put, if clinical radiology departments are not fully staffed, the impact is felt across the entire health service.
For trusts and health boards, late diagnosis leads to more complicated and expensive treatment. For patients, the shortages, country wide inequalities and their wider ramifications damage their hopes of being diagnosed and treated in a quick and timely manner, posing a real risk to their outcome.
This year’s report highlights the need to take urgent and immediate action to address the workforce shortfalls and build a sustainable model for the future.