Cancer services will only improve with concrete action to boost staff numbers and equipment across diagnostics and treatment

Tuesday 27 November 2018

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed today’s “Unfinished Business” cancer services report from The Health Foundation, while stressing that future improvement remains totally dependent on increased investment in healthcare staff, as well as more imaging and radiotherapy equipment.  

RCR Vice-President for Clinical Radiology Dr Caroline Rubin said:

“We very much welcome The Health Foundation’s frank and comprehensive review of the past 20 years of cancer service provision in England, and its assessment of what needs to happen next. In particular, we are pleased to see the report puts early diagnosis front-and-centre in improving cancer outcomes, and clearly backs ongoing appeals from diagnostic experts – from imaging through to endoscopy and pathology – for more manpower and resources.

“The Foundation urges policy makers and health leaders to build on successful diagnostic initiatives – such as lung screening and rapid diagnostic centre pilot schemes – and increase referral rates.

“While the RCR supports these initiatives in principle, their success is completely dependent on another of the report’s action points – the need for more diagnostic capacity. 

“Employing different referral pathways, such as new screening programmes and testing in primary care settings, could benefit patients. However, these initiatives must recognise the huge pressures already faced by imaging services and avoid transferring the problem from one place to another.

“England, and the UK as a whole, lags woefully behind the rest of Europe in terms of radiologist and scanner provision, as well as having a shortage of diagnostic radiographers. International comparisons clearly demonstrate the lack of provision of computed tomography and magnetic resonance scanners and currently the UK only has three-quarters of the radiologists needed to keep up with cancer scanning. This gap between demand and capacity will only grow without more investment, meaning delayed – not improved – cancer diagnoses and failure to achieve world class cancer outcomes. 

“The same strain exists in oncology. Right now we are 15 per cent short of the clinical oncologists we need to expertly plan and deliver non-surgical cancer treatment. Improved early detection is only half the battle, as we will need more cancer doctors to treat growing numbers of newly diagnosed patients. In addition, cancer centres are in desperate need of strategic capital investment for modern radiotherapy equipment and better IT.  

“The report’s authors reference the Prime Minister’s mooted new cancer strategy and promise of investment in diagnostic imaging equipment and rapid diagnostic centres, and we eagerly anticipate more concrete detail on how these plans will be realised.”