Radiologist census underlines ongoing toll of workforce shortages

Tuesday 14 April 2020

The Royal College of Radiologists’ (RCR) annual radiology workforce report summarises data and commentary from NHS radiology leaders across the UK.

As the report has been finalised and gone to press, the NHS has found itself battling a global pandemic, and pressurised services are having to summon further reserves to manage the unprecedented challenge.

The RCR workforce census data was returned before the escalation of coronavirus management, and underlines the precarious state of many hospital imaging services.

Key findings from the Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census Report 2019 include:

  • NHS hospitals spent £193m last year on outsourcing, overtime and locums to cover radiologist shortages, with scan outsourcing leaping up 32 per cent in a single year – in Scotland, outsourcing rose by 73 per cent
  • Nearly half (46 per cent) of trusts and health boards do not have the staff or transfer arrangements required for safe 24/7 interventional radiology services, meaning patients are missing out on cutting-edge, life-saving surgical techniques
  • Demand for complex CT and MRI scans is growing at three times the speed of the radiologist workforce
  • This year, approximately 200 doctors will qualify as radiology consultants – not enough to fill even half of ongoing vacancies
  • The UK radiologist workforce is now 33 per cent short-staffed – without more consultants in training and better staff retention and recruitment, the shortfall will hit 43 per cent by 2020

Professor Mark Callaway, lead author of the workforce report and the RCR’s Medical Director of Professional Practice for Clinical Radiology, said:

“The global coronavirus pandemic brings a sustained period of uncertainty and demand for the NHS – in the face of which hospitals and healthcare systems are pulling together and adapting as best as possible, despite working from a position of chronic staff and resource shortages. Despite significant pressures, radiologists, like all NHS clinicians, are continuing to work tirelessly to meet the challenge of providing imaging and interventional services during these extraordinary times.

“Radiologists are by no means the only under-staffed, under-funded consultant specialty, but our most recent report underlines how our staffing crisis, which has been evident and escalating for the past five years, is having an undeniable, direct impact on the cost and quality of patient care.

“Now is a time for solidarity across the health service but we hope – given future funding allowances and time to reflect on the resilience and sustainability of the NHS – politicians and health leaders will seriously consider how the ongoing shortage of radiologists limits patient care and poses a threat to patient safety, and commit to improving trainee numbers and focussing on specialty-specific retention measures.”