NHS will waste over £400m by 2030 if the Government fails to invest in imaging and cancer doctors

Wednesday 13 October 2021

New research from the RCR and policy experts WPI Economics shows the NHS could waste £420m by 2030 if it continues with expensive outsourcing and overseas recruitment to plug the UK’s shortage of radiologists and clinical oncologists, instead of investing in homegrown consultants. 

Sustained investment in the two medical specialties1 would cost £652m by 2030 and provide nearly all the clinical oncologists the NHS will need and around half the forecast shortfall of radiologists2.  

In contrast, existing strategies to manage radiologist and clinical oncologist shortfalls – even helped by savings from artificial intelligence (AI) programmes and smarter working3 – would cost just over £1b by 2030. Status quo funding would provide a similar amount of radiologist cover as workforce investment, but only a-fifth of the extra clinical oncologists the NHS will need to meet even basic demands for cancer care4

RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson said:

“The cancer backlog is well documented and it is clear we currently do not have enough imaging and cancer doctors to provide safe patient care. Right now, the NHS is short of nearly 2,000 radiologists and 200 clinical oncologists and projections from today’s report show those shortages could hit 6,000 and 700 by 2030. 

“There are great innovations in the pipeline for imaging and cancer care, including developmental AI and community diagnostic centres, but the bottom line is that AI and new models for delivering care will not work without more consultants on the ground. 

“Radiology and oncology are central to diagnosing and treating cancer, stroke, heart disease and many other devastating diseases, and without a properly staffed workforce we simply cannot ensure good and safe patient care.”

Today’s new research report outlines the impact of clinician shortages on care delays and patient safety and goes on to model the initial costs and ultimate savings of sustaining a boost in radiology and clinical oncology trainee numbers over the next nine-to-12 years, compared to current methods to manage shortages. 

Investing in NHS consultant training would initially cost more, but by the end 2025 it would save £6m, growing to £420m in savings by 2030 and £610m by 2031 – money which could be put back into new treatments and much-needed NHS equipment, facilities and other resources.

Dr Dickson added:

“We understand the Government faces a colossal task in healthcare funding and that the whole NHS needs more investment coming out of covid. But our new research demonstrates that, for imaging and cancer services, committed investment to train more consultant doctors would be a resounding win-win and deliver a considerably better-staffed workforce, better able to provide the level of care our patients deserve, and result in substantial savings to put back into the NHS.”

Matthew Oakley, Director of WPI Economics, said:

"Our report confirms what we already know, that shortages of clinical oncologists and radiologist is costing lives. It also shows that trying to meet demand through outsourcing, overtime and overseas recruitment will be unsuccessful, unsustainable and very costly. 

“A significant and sustained increase in training places is needed, and would improve patient outcomes, save lives and do so at lower cost to the NHS than alternatives." 


  1. On the back of COVID-19 pressures, this year the UK Government granted a one-off boost to radiology and clinical oncology training in England, funding 130 extra radiology trainees and 50 additional clinical oncology trainees, on top of usual numbers (roughly 250 radiologists and 50-55 clinical oncologists per year).
    However, the increase was just for 2021.Ahead of the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review and Budget later this month, the RCR is urgently calling for the 2021 training boost to be repeated every year, and the new training report models the cost savings and staff outcomes that would be gained if these numbers were repeated for England until 2032, and compares them with the results of continuing current strategies of outsourcing and overseas recruitment, combined with various efficiency savings. 
  2. By extrapolating the RCR’s robust census report recruitment and retention modelling, WPI Economics forecasts that without additional workforce investment there will be a shortage of 5,957 full-time radiologists and 698 full-time clinical oncologists across the UK NHS by 2030. Maintained investment in radiology and clinical oncology trainees in England – at 2021 levels – would cover 45% of the predicted 2030 radiologist shortfall and 95% of the forecast shortage of clinical oncologists. For more details on training costings and extrapolation methodology, see the full report. 
  3. The “status quo” funding model is a ramped version of current mitigation strategies – it factors in double the current level of outsourcing and a 50% increase in overseas recruitment for the two specialties, as well as modelled efficiency savings due the rollout of AI and improved ways of working. 
  4. This funding strategy would cover 56% of the predicted 2030 radiologist shortfall and 18% of clinical oncologist shortages. For more details, see the full report. 

← Go to press centre