RCR responds to CQC review of radiology services

Thursday 19 July 2018
  • RCR calls for hospitals to publish reporting backlogs on a weekly basis 
  • Concept of national standards is laudable but “will not be easy” to realise

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) review of radiology reporting in England, released today.

The review follows CQC investigations into radiology backlogs at a number of hospital trusts between 201617 and gives a comprehensive overview of the issues affecting England’s radiology departments and the timely turnaround of imaging reports.

Its primary finding is nothing new, neither is it particular to English hospitals. NHS radiology departments across the whole of the UK simply do not have enough expert consultants and supporting radiographers to manage the spiralling demand for patient imaging studies, a message the RCR has been repeating year-after-year.  

The RCR is pleased to see the CQC has bolstered its processes so that the performance of imaging departments will now be a key inspection area. The College is also keen to see the results of the Commission’s forthcoming inspection and rating of teleradiology outsourcing companies.

Responding in more detail to the CQC’s recommendations, the RCR has stressed that unless radiologist staffing is improved, reporting backlogs are likely to continue.

Dr Nicola Strickland, President of The Royal College of Radiologists, said:

“The premise of national standards for the turnaround of imaging reports is laudable – patients deserve a uniformly safe, high quality standardised service across the country, and hospitals need to be able to monitor and benchmark performance.

“Whether high quality national standards can be maintained in practice is another question. Creating standards that balance the realities of struggling imaging teams with the best turnaround for patients will not be easy.    

“With those practicalities in mind, the RCR is keen to work with NHS Improvement on what viable national standards might look like.

“We also fully support the CQC’s call to work alongside the Society and College of Radiographers in developing supportive frameworks for imaging teams, however, those frameworks will be dependent on finalised standards, as well as real-world staffing considerations. 

“We very much welcome the Commission’s recommendations for trust bosses to have regular oversight and ownership of radiology backlogs – and to monitor the risk that those backlogs pose to patients.

“The RCR also wants trusts to go a step further and routinely publish their reporting workloads and backlogs on a weekly basis to ensure large backlogs no longer go unnoticed or unchallenged.

“We very much agree that hospital leaders and imaging managers must make effective, appropriate use of the staff and resources they have, but the underlying problem remains – without more radiologists to provide imaging expertise in our hospitals, backlogs will continue and patients will suffer.  As the CQC rightly notes, artificial intelligence programmes will help us in future, but right now we need more hospital staff.

“Many hospitals have been desperately trying and struggling to recruit for years. Unpublished RCR workforce numbers for 2017 show that more than two-thirds of vacant consultant radiologist jobs sit empty for at least year. The main reason for this is that not enough radiologists are being trained to deal with the ever-increasing imaging workload and its complexity. The same shortages are also seen for radiographers.

“Efficiencies will only get us so far, and most have already been made by radiology departments, due to the relentless pressure to improve reporting turnaround. There is no getting away from the fact that to fulfil the CQC’s recommendations and give patients the service they deserve we need more radiologists.”

Read the CQC’s Radiology Review