Hospitals need hundreds more 'trauma detectives' and 'pinhole surgeons' to provide 24/7 emergency radiology

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Global awareness day celebrates role of radiologists in emergency care but UK still short of expert imaging doctors

November 8 marks the anniversary of the discovery of X-rays and is celebrated around the world as the International Day of Radiology (IDOR).

This year’s event focuses on the many ways radiologists are involved in emergency care, from acting as the “trauma detectives” who scan severely injured victims of accidents and violent crime, to interventional radiologists who perform cutting-edge minimally invasive surgery, such as stopping acute bleeding and removing life-threatening blood clots.

Despite the vital role these doctors play in emergency care, specialist radiologists are in short supply:

  • Interventional radiology is understaffed by at least 44%, or 320 doctors. Latest figures show there are now 414 interventional radiologists practising in England1, however, a 2012 review said the NHS needed approximately 7352 interventional radiologists to provide a proper on-call service in England alone  
  • The NHS is planning to roll out life-transforming mechanical thrombectomy treatment to stroke patients in England. However, specialist centres need at least 50 additional interventional neuroradiologists to provide an adequate 24/7 service3
  • England’s trauma centre network has made a huge impact on emergency patient care, however, service changes and radiologist shortages mean most still cannot provide a senior emergency radiologist on-site 24/7

Patients have come forward to celebrate IDOR 2017 and express their gratitude to the radiologists who treated them in an emergency, including:

  • Steve Lockwood, a survivor of the March 2017 Westminster Bridge terror attack, whose powerful story featured on the BBC2 programme Hospital
  • Nichola Randall from north Hampshire, who suffered a stroke while caring for her children and was saved by a life-changing mechanical thrombectomy procedure
  • Darren Coles, a Plymouth car salesman who had his leg, and possibly his life, saved by an interventional radiologist following a freak cycling accident

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), the British Society of Interventional Radiology and the British Society of Emergency Radiology are calling on the Government to fund more radiologist training places and support the professional development of trauma-dedicated and interventional radiologists. 

Dr Nicola Strickland, President of the Royal College of Radiologists, said:

“This year’s International Day of Radiology is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the huge impact radiologists and imaging teams have on emergency and trauma care by using scans and image-guided surgery to save lives, day in, day out.

“We’ve heard from patients just how crucial trauma scans and interventional radiology procedures have been to their emergency treatment and recovery. But to ensure every patient has access to this expertise we need more investment in radiology training places and more support to help these doctors become tomorrow’s experts in trauma and interventional care.”     

Dr Raman Uberoi, past-President of the British Society of Interventional Radiology, said:

“Interventional radiology techniques give a minimally invasive alternative to many types of traditional surgery.

“This image-guided ‘pinhole surgery’ is safer, speedier and results in a much quicker patient discharge from hospital, however, there is still a desperate need for hundreds more interventional radiologists across the UK in order to provide a safe, comprehensive 24/7 service.”

Dr Elizabeth Dick is President of the British Society of Emergency Radiology and an expert trauma radiologist based at London’s St Mary’s Hospital. As well as daily cases of serious accidents and violent crime, this year she has also worked as part of the teams treating victims of the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.

Dr Dick said: “In a trauma situation, imaging is vital – it’s the radiologist’s job to identify every serious injury and prioritise what has to be done right now – it’s up to us to determine which part of the body is suffering a massive life-threatening bleed and which isn’t.

“But the reality is that there are not enough expert trauma radiologists. In many major trauma centres, out-of-hours care is delivered by trainees because there aren’t enough fully qualified consultant imaging doctors to work round the clock. These registrar radiologists deliver a brilliant service but patients deserve the same level of senior doctor care, delivered by fully trained trauma specialist radiologists, whatever time or whatever day of the week they come into hospital.”  


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1. Figure derived from RCR’s “UK Clinical Radiology UK workforce census 2016 report”: 
2. Centre for Workforce Intelligence “Securing the future workforce supply, clinical radiology stocktake”(2012):
3. Projected figure of interventional neuroradiologists supplied by the British Society of Neuroradiologists 

Notes to editors

The Royal College of Radiologists
has over 10,500 fellows and members worldwide, representing the medical specialties of clinical oncology and clinical radiology. The College sets and maintains the standards for entry to and practice in the specialties in addition to leading and supporting practitioners throughout their career

The British Society of Interventional Radiology has nearly 700 members who work across the interventional team, including interventional radiologists, radiographers and nurses. It works to advance education in interventional radiology and assist in the provision of new education and research facilities for interventional radiology

The British Society of Emergency Radiology was set up in 2014 wih the aim of pursuing excellence in emergency imaging in the UK by continually improving everyday practice through education and research. It is open to all interested radiologists and provides a national forum for discussion of emergency radiology, including an annual scientific meeting

Dr Elizabeth Dick will be giving our public lecture on emergency radiology (9 November). Email to register your place to attend or for livestreaming.