New reports put UK radiologist shortages into focus

Tuesday 25 August 2020

The RCR has published a suite of workforce reports that drill down into the national and regional variation of radiologist shortages across the UK nations and forecast future radiologist numbers. 

The four home nation workforce summary reports build on data from the RCR’s annual UK-wide workforce report, with expert local opinion and solutions supplied by our national standing committees and Officer team. 

The reports detail the provision of diagnostic and interventional radiology consultants, along with each country’s current workforce shortfall – how many more consultants are needed to keep up with the demand for scans and safe interventional radiology staffing. 

We predict the size of each respective workforce by 2024, should current shortage trends continue without more support and investment, and suggest clear measures to boost the number of radiology trainees, improve working models and retain staff.

Key findings include:

  • In England the consultant radiologist workforce is 35 per cent short-staffed and needs at least another 1,613 full-time consultants to keep up with safe staffing quotas and the demand for scans – without improvements the workforce will only increase by 571 consultants over the next four years
  • In Scotland the workforce is 31 per cent short-staffed and needs another 141 full-time consultant radiologists – without improvements it will only grow by 34 by 2024
  • In Wales the workforce is 37 per cent understaffed and needs another 93 full-time consultants – without improvements it is set to shrink, losing two consultants by 2024
  • In Northern Ireland the workforce is 27 per cent short-staffed and needs at least another 52 full-time consultants – if nothing improves, it will grow by just 12 consultants by 2024

The RCR UK census data that underpins the reports was returned in December 2019 and underlines the extent to which services were struggling before the advent of COVID-19, with the majority of hospital imaging managers stating that radiologist shortages were threatening patient safety.

Commenting on the reports, the RCR’s radiology workforce lead and Medical Director of Professional Practice for Clinical Radiology Professor Mark Callaway said: 

“Our devolved nation reports show that going into the pandemic, the UK nations were struggling with radiologist shortages of between 27-37 per cent. 

“Regardless, imaging services stepped up and were active in diagnosing and treating coronavirus patients and ensuring those with cancer and emergency conditions could access scans and minimally invasive surgery during the peak of the pandemic. 

“But our workforce shortages are being felt again as services move to return to ‘normal’ rates of work, while facing a backlog of waiting patients and less capacity due to COVID-19 infection control measures, and with winter pressures looming.  

“The new RCR reports detail particular local trends, however, they all reveal concerning gaps in interventional radiology provision and forecast meagre workforce expansion without concerted mitigation. 

“As Westminster and devolved administrations look to economic recovery and future pandemic safeguards, we urge them to fund improvements in NHS imaging. Without a properly resourced radiologist workforce, patients will suffer due to patchy access to life-saving interventional expertise and we will see a return to escalating imaging waits.”