New RCR survey finds patients still waiting too long for test results

Thursday 19 March 2015

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has today published Unreported X-rays, CT and MRI scans: Results of a snapshot survey of English NHS trusts, a special report showing how long patients are waiting for results of their X-rays and scans.  The report uses findings of a comprehensive survey conducted in February 2015 of radiology departments following an earlier snapshot survey conducted in October 2014. 

The February survey asked how many imaging examinations (X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans) had waited more than 30 days for a report by a radiologist. Results were received from 121 out of 155 Trusts in England (78%)

The new findings show:

  • Around seven in ten (71% or 86 out of 121) NHS trusts indicated that some patients were waiting more than 30 days for the results of their imaging tests.
  • The total numbers of imaging studies (and therefore patients) waiting for a result in late February were:
    • 257,158 X-rays
    • 2,883 CT scans
    • 3,277 MRI scans.
  • These figures suggest that in England as a whole, almost 330,000 patients are waiting more than a month for results of their x-rays, and almost 8,000 are waiting over a month for their CT and MRI scan results.

The figures represent a worsening of the situation since the RCR’s initial snapshot survey last October.

Commenting on these survey results, Dr Giles Maskell, President of the RCR said:

“These findings are deeply concerning and back up the results of our initial survey. Amongst the patients waiting so long for their results there will be some with cancer and other serious conditions whose future health could be put at risk by the delay. The RCR is wholly committed to improving the quality of services for patients and is keen to work with NHS England and others to find the solutions.

       “Radiology departments are under considerable pressure to minimise the number of unreported studies yet face challenges of shortages of consultant radiologists, other  resourcing issues, and ever increasing demand”.

The Royal College of Radiologists is concerned about the negative impact on patients in terms of:

  • Delays in diagnosing cancer and other serious illnesses
  • Anxiety for patients waiting for test results
  • Wasted journeys for patients expecting test results
  • Waste of time and other resources not just in radiology but throughout the healthcare system.

To address these issues, the RCR proposes that:

  1. Delays are properly monitored.  Currently the NHS target counts the time from a patient being referred for a test to the date of the test being performed. This is meaningless if the patient then has to wait a further month for the result. The whole waiting time from referral to result should be monitored including the further time from the result being available to its being received by the patient - what matters to the patient is when they get the result.

  2. More radiologists are recruited and trained. There is a chronic shortage of radiologists in the UK with only around 48 trained radiologists per million population, a figure which has increased only slowly over the past five years. The equivalent figures are 92 in Germany, 112 in Spain and 130 in France.  The number of scans performed in the UK remains significantly below those in other countries for most tests. The situation revealed by our snapshot will only improve if a commitment is made now by NHS England and Health Education England to train more radiologists.

  3. The current radiologist workforce is better used. Better use could be made of existing radiologists. Networks allowing groups of radiologists to provide services to a population greater than that traditionally served by a single hospital could help to offer timely and equitable access to imaging for patients. This proposal would help to reduce delays and is explained further in our paper: Radiology in the UK: the case for a new service model. The barriers preventing this from happening must be removed.