RCR responds to Spending Review

Thursday 26 November 2020

The RCR has welcomed extra short-term funding for NHS equipment and service recovery announced in the Government’s Spending Review, while stressing the need for sustainable investment.   

Yesterday’s departmental Spending Review, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, outlined official spending plans and initiatives for coming year. 

NHS spending includes:

  • A dedicated £3b fund to help providers tackle coronavirus backlogs and recover services, including £1b for “extra checks, scans and operations”
  • £325m to upgrade aging imaging equipment
  • An additional £6.3b in core funding for the NHS in 2021-22, including;
  • £4.2 for hospital infrastructure maintenance and improvements
  • £559m for IT improvements  
  • A £260m funding increase for Health Education England in 2021-22

Responding to the NHS settlement, RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson said:

“Imaging and cancer teams are working hard to restore and adapt patient services as the NHS manages the current COVID-19 surge.

“Determined radiology departments are bringing hospital imaging backlogs down month-on-month, but latest figures revealed 84,000 patients in England alone are still waiting more than six weeks for CT and MRI scans. Cancer treatments have continued throughout the crisis, but cancer referrals are just starting to return to pre-coronavirus levels. Meanwhile, cancer screening programmes are only just remobilising, meaning we are likely to see a related wave of patients having their cancers diagnosed later, presenting with less treatable disease.     

“The Chancellor’s pledge of enhanced healthcare spending over the next year and an additional fund dedicated to coronavirus recovery is to be welcomed. However, as he stated, ‘our health emergency is not over’. COVID-19 has undeniably exposed chronic NHS under-funding and its dire need for sustainable investment.   

“The promise of £325m to further upgrade the UK’s aging imaging equipment base is very welcome. But we don’t just need newer scanners, we need more of them to be able to resource covid-secure pathways and keep up with ambitious targets to improve early cancer diagnosis. The NHS’ top cancer and diagnostics adviser Professor Sir Mike Richards recently said the number of CT scanners will need to double to keep up with demand.

“Outdated NHS IT infrastructure is preventing access to modern scans and cancer treatments. Plans to improve both imaging and cancer care revolve around better IT networking between hospitals and cancer centres, and those projects should benefit from a portion of the billions in extra funding promised for estate and IT upgrades. We also hope providers can access capital funding to implement ‘quick wins’ to improve imaging services, including purchasing referral support software for GPs and home reporting equipment for radiologists.      

“Equipment and IT upgrades are much-needed and have the potential to improve the safety and streamlining of care, but services can only do so much without more staff.

“RCR figures show it would cost approximately £940m1 to train the doctors needed to plug the NHS’ existing shortages of radiologists and clinical oncologists. We hope some of the £260m uplift promised for healthcare training in England will help to expand and retain the radiology and cancer workforce and support their wellbeing, but adequate staff resourcing remains a distant aspiration with this settlement.    

“The announcement of immediate NHS funding is welcome, but the need for longer-term investment in equipment, IT connectivity and, crucially, staffing in order to safeguard imaging and cancer care cannot be ignored forever. 

“Only a carefully costed, multi-year funding package will enable radiology and cancer teams to continue to rollout improvements, standardise access to care and ensure NHS services are fit for the future.”


References

  1. RCR figures show the UK now needs 1,876 extra diagnostic and interventional radiologists to keep up with demand, and estimates recruitment and training costs to meet the shortage equal £833m. Training and recruitment to meet the current shortage of 207 clinical oncologists would cost £108m. Further detail and a breakdown of these figures is available on request.