Latest workforce report underlines “no end in sight” for UK’s radiologist staffing crisis

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Figures released today by The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) underline the increasingly desperate situation in UK radiology, with the ongoing shortage of imaging doctors making late hospital diagnoses and delayed scan results a very real likelihood for patients.

In 2016 the NHS paid out an estimated £88 million for out-of-hours reporting of X-rays and scans, while nearly two-thirds of vacant radiologist posts sat empty for 12 months or more.

Key findings of the Clinical radiology UK workforce census 2016 report include;

  • Nearly one-in-ten UK radiologist posts (8.5%) were vacant during 2016, nearly two-thirds of which (61%) were unfilled for a year or more

  • The need for scans continues to grow. In England from 2013-16 the number of computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans respectively rose by more than 30% - three times more than the rate of workforce growth. Technological advances mean that these scans are more complex than ever before and take longer to interpret

  • The high proportion of retirements versus new consultant numbers means the UK’s radiologist workforce will expand by just 1% year-on-year

  • Last year, only 3% of NHS imaging departments were able to report all their patient scans within normal working hours

  • The NHS spent nearly £88 million in 2016 paying for backlogs of radiology examinations to be reported – the same amount could have paid for at least 1,028 full-time consultants1

The workforce report highlights the critical UK-wide problem of not have enough imaging doctors to fill hospital vacancies.

Across the UK as a whole, 8.5% of radiologist posts are unfilled. In Wales, 13.1% of posts are vacant, whereas Northern Ireland has the highest vacancy rate, with 20% of posts now empty.

Around a fifth of the radiologist workforce is going to retire across the UK, England and Scotland within the next five years, whereas in Wales that number jumps to 30%.   

The UK has the third lowest number of radiologists per population of 31 audited EU countries, with 7.5 clinicians (radiology trainees and consultants combined) per 100,000 patients. The EU average is 12.7 per 100,0002.

Meanwhile, the NHS continues to spend millions to cover the shortfall in radiologists. Last year, the UK spent an estimated £87.9m on paying for its backlog of radiology examinations to be reported, with the bulk spent by English hospitals (£71.2m). Northern Ireland spent £6.5m in 2016, Scotland £4.6m and Wales £4.5m.   

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

"So much of modern healthcare depends upon diagnostic imaging scans and interventional radiology.

“The Government seems intent on sticking its proverbial head in the sand, constantly failing to invest in the much-needed trainee radiologists who will become the consultants of tomorrow. Instead, it is content to waste millions of pounds of NHS funds paying for scans and X-rays to be reported out-of-hours, as well as paying for expensive locum consultants just to keep hospital imaging departments afloat.

“Previous RCR workforce figures have made grim reading, and sadly 2016 numbers show there is no end in sight for the UK’s ongoing shortage of radiologists. The only lasting way to sort out this problem is to invest now in training many more radiologists, which will more than pay for itself in the near future.

“Scans are integral to patient care, and demand for X-rays, MRI and CT scans is growing every year. As well as doctors having more scans to report, improving imaging technology means these scans are becoming ever more complicated, taking longer to interpret. Cutting-edge radiology, such as life-altering stroke intervention and cardiac imaging, can only keep pace if we have enough radiologist doctors to do it. Without more radiologists, more patients will miss out on vital new interventional procedures, and they will wait even longer for diagnoses of cancer and serious diseases.”

To read the 2016 workforce census in full, please visit: https://www.rcr.ac.uk/clinical-radiology/service-delivery/rcr-workforce-census 


Key regional findings from the Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census 2016 Report  

Region

Number of radiologists (part- and full-time workers)

Radiologists per 100,000 (consultants only)

2016
Vacancy level

Retirement rate over next 5 years

2016 Estimated NHS outsourcing cost 

UK

4970

4.9

8.5%

22%

£87.9m

England

4131

4.8

7.4%

22%

£71.1m

Scotland

454

5.5

10%

19%

£4.6m

Wales

216

4.9

13.1%

30%

£4.5m

Northern Ireland

169

6.0

20%

13%

£6.5m


References

1. “Outsourcing” estimate includes both outsourcing to third party companies and “insourcing” of NHS consultants out-of-hours. Equivalent figure based on point 5 of the current consultant pay scale for England
2. Eurostat EU comparison data: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/health/health-care/data/database

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • For further information, please contact Emma Cooper on 020 7406 5941 or email emma_cooper@rcr.ac.uk Out of office hours please call 07554 998197.

  • The Royal College of Radiologists has over 10,000 Fellows and members worldwide, representing the 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 www.rcr.ac.uk