Laudable NHS England ambitions must be supported by increased investment

Tuesday 8 January 2019

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed the overarching aims of NHS England’s Long Term Plan to improve the health of the nation, coordinate care and ensure the sustainability of the NHS. 

However, its realisation will be completely dependent upon resourcing and staffing across the health service. 

RCR President Dr Nicola Strickland said:

“We are pleased the plan features such a strong emphasis on cancer detection, with the introduction of dated targets for diagnostic turnaround and early diagnosis, coupled with some acknowledgement from NHS England that diagnostic capacity is currently lacking. 

“The new 28-day referral-to-diagnosis standard due to be introduced next year ought to be a good way of reducing anxiety for patients waiting for test results and speeding up diagnosis. However, cancer waiting time targets are routinely missed because we don’t have enough radiologists, pathologists, GPs, endoscopists and other diagnosticians, so it’s hard to see how we can meet an enhanced cancer target without more staff resources.

“The plan aims to build on early detection initiatives such as rapid diagnostic centres and mobile lung screening. We believe these pilots can be rolled out across England and make a big difference to spotting cancer early, but again, success is dependent upon having the additional clinical and administrative staff needed to run them nationwide.

“We are delighted the plan clearly addresses the need for scanning equipment, without which our patients cannot access the very best imaging for diagnosing and managing cancer and other conditions, and eagerly await more detail about timelines for provision.

“The plan makes mention of maximising efficiencies and capital in radiology and radiotherapy provision. However, frustratingly, it fails to recognise that the much-needed networking of radiotherapy care and image-sharing across hospitals urgently requires sustainable investment programmes for both treatment and diagnostic imaging machines, as well as IT connectivity.

“On stroke care, we are pleased to see NHS England support work by the RCR and specialist colleagues to train more consultants in life-saving mechanical thrombectomy. Despite this, without more interventional radiologists we simply will not be able to meet the mooted aim to treat ten times more stroke patients within the next three years.

“As many have said, and the plan acknowledges, the future of the NHS depends on its people. It is a relief to see NHS England has given prominence to the need for realistic workforce planning, which – like vital scanner upgrades – will be dictated by the forthcoming spending review, and we look forward to inputting into the proposed national workforce group.

“With chronic shortages across our specialities, we can but look ahead and hope our NHS receives the crucial funding it needs to staff and equip the service and realise the laudable ambitions of the Long Term Plan.”