Breast cancer screening services at risk without urgent investment in workforce says Royal College of Radiologists

Tuesday 8 November 2016

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) is using International Day of Radiology – which this year focuses on breast imaging - to draw attention to the looming workforce crisis facing breast cancer screening and diagnostic services in the UK.

It is calling on the government to invest urgently in more resources to recruit and retain breast radiologists.

The establishment of a national breast screening programme in 1987, as well as successful public information campaigns on breast health against a background of technological advances, has resulted in a significant rise in both the number and complexity of diagnostic breast imaging investigations.

However, this growing demand is not being matched with the necessary investment in the breast radiology workforce. Many breast radiologist posts remain vacant, breast screening units are understaffed and large numbers of breast radiologists are due to retire by 2020. Recent surveys carried out by RCR reveal:

  • 25% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units operate with just two or fewer breast radiologists and have no cover for sickness or absence(1)
  • 21% of breast radiologists are likely to retire by 2020 and 38% by 2025. This will impact severely on breast cancer screening and diagnosis.(1)
  • Around 8% of breast radiologist posts across the UK are vacant. The number of unfilled posts has doubled since 2010. Too few of these specialists are being trained.(2)

Breast screening is currently offered to women aged 50-70 in England. However, plans to extend the programme to some women aged 47-73 would mean the number of women potentially covered in the UK would increase by around 28%, from 8 million to 10.2 million.(1)

Commenting, Dr Hilary Dobson OBE, chair of The British Society of Breast Radiology (BSBR) said: 

“The skill of breast radiologists in interpreting mammograms and other complex scans is vital to the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer as well as in the delivery of cancer screening programmes. Without more breast radiologists to tackle this increasing demand, we cannot hope to achieve the best possible health outcomes for patients.”

Commenting, Dr Nicola Strickland, President of the RCR said:

“The International Day of Radiology should be a day when radiologists all over the world celebrate our profession and the tremendous impact radiology can have in improving health outcomes for millions of patients, often saving lives through early and accurate diagnosis of scans and X-rays.”

“But it’s difficult to celebrate in the UK where we only have seven radiologists per 100,000 people, the third lowest in Europe. Urgent investment from the Government and NHS leadership across the UK is needed now.”

Ends

  1. The breast imaging and diagnostic workforce in the United Kingdom (RCR, April 2016)
  2. Clinical radiology UK workforce census 2015 report (RCR, September 2016)