New report reveals workforce crisis in UK breast cancer screening and diagnostic services

Thursday 21 April 2016

A report published today reveals a looming crisis in the UK breast cancer screening and diagnostic workforce.

The report, The breast imaging and diagnostic workforce in the United Kingdom, reveals major challenges facing services as they cope with an ever-increasing demand for tests. A survey was conducted of diagnostic breast services across the UK. Responses were received from 65% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units.

  • Understaffed: 25% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units operate with just one or two consultant radiologists and have no cover for sickness or absence.
  • Retirements:  21% of breast radiologists are likely to retire by 2020 and 38% by 2025. Figures for other staff working in breast units show a similar pattern. This will impact severely on breast cancer screening and diagnosis. 
  • Vacancies:  Around 13% of consultant breast radiologist posts across the UK are vacant. The number of unfilled posts has doubled since 2010. Too few of these specialists are being trained.

Commenting on the report, author Dr Hilary Dobson OBE, chair of The British Society of Breast Radiology said: 

“This report reflects the experience of breast teams throughout the UK. The number and complexity of breast imaging examinations is rising and services cannot cope.

We are already working collaboratively with other staff groups and maximising the use of newer technologies to meet the changing needs of our patients. The future of breast cancer screening services is at risk without urgent investment in the workforce.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now said:

“These findings are of tremendous concern. This trend unfortunately represents a major issue underpinning our ability to diagnose and treat women with breast cancer in the UK.

“Much more must now be done to ensure our screening services are properly resourced and our NHS workforce is sufficiently supported.

“Our governments must take action so that patients do not suffer as a consequence of short staffing. We hope this report will provide a firm basis to plan the training of new radiologists so that anticipated gaps are ready to be filled by experts of the future.”

Dr Giles Maskell, President of The Royal College of Radiologists said:

“We do not have enough radiologists. The impact of this is being felt across the spectrum of cancer care from screening to treatment and follow up. We will never achieve the best possible outcomes for patients if this is not addressed.”


Further information: Bruce Sparrow 020 7406 5941 / 07554 998197.

Notes for Editors:

  1. The breast imaging and diagnostic workforce in the United Kingdom survey was designed by The British Society of Breast Radiology, NHS England, Public Health England and The Royal College of Radiologists to collect data on the breast screening workforce including radiologists providing breast services in the NHS Breast Screening Programme units and radiology departments. Data on numbers working, expected retirements, unfilled posts and breast imaging activities were sought. The survey ran for one month between 8 May and 9 June 2015.
  2. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and a leading cause of death in women. Approximately 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and around 12,000 women die of the disease each year.
  3. NHS Breast Screening Programme - each year more than two million women have breast cancer screening in the UK. The Programme invites (via their GP) all women aged between 50 and 70 for screening every three years. The workforce involved in the Programme includes radiologists, breast clinicians, radiographers and advanced practitioners.
  4. Consultant radiologists are doctors who interpret x-rays, scans and other types of medical images to detect and diagnose disease and injury. Timely, accurate diagnosis using imaging techniques can speed up access to treatment, prevent or reduce hospital stays and offer major cost savings. 
  5. The Royal College of Radiologists has over 9,900 Fellows and members worldwide, representing the specialties of clinical oncology and clinical radiology. The College sets and maintains the standards for entry to and practise in the specialties in addition to leading and supporting practitioners throughout their careers.
  1. The British Society of Breast Radiology (BSBR) was founded in 1988 and provides a forum for discussion of radiological matters relating to breast disease and breast screening. It advises on issues such as professional standards and training requirements relating to breast imaging. The BSBR is a Special Interest Group (SIG) of The Royal College of Radiologists.