RCR response to HEE cancer workforce plan – promised trainee doctor numbers 'a drop in the ocean'

Wednesday 6 December 2017

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) was interested to read Health Education England’s (HEE) initial Cancer Workforce Plan, published yesterday, but believes it does not go nearly far enough to address the massive shortfall in radiologist and clinical oncologist numbers.

The challenge of retaining good staff – both in radiology and clinical oncology – is an important one, and we support moves to keep our specialist doctors working within the NHS.

In addition, international recruitment of radiologists will be a vital measure to keep our diagnostic services functioning and we are extremely pleased to be working with HEE in this area.

However, the RCR believes stopgap measures around retention and international recruitment will only go so far.

RCR President Dr Nicola Strickland said: “It is encouraging to see HEE bluntly state that if workforce continues to be an ‘afterthought’ to policy and budget makers, then cancer diagnosis and care will fall short.

“We are thankful for the ongoing commitment to fund 35 new clinical radiologist training posts per year.

“However, we are already in dire need of many more fully-trained radiologist consultants. Imaging departments across England have more than 300 vacant radiologist jobs and are paying out over £70 million a year to outsource scan reporting – 35 extra trainee posts will only scratch the surface when we need hundreds more to meet existing shortfalls, let alone future demand. The need for leadership and expertise provided by specialist doctors is only set to grow as we see rising numbers of future patients with increasingly complex conditions.

“While it is great news that other diagnostic specialities are being recognised and boosted as part of the workforce plan, without an even greater commitment to radiologist training the Government’s 28-day cancer diagnosis target will remain purely aspirational.”

Commenting on the clinical oncologist workforce, RCR Vice-President, Clinical Oncology, Dr Jeanette Dickson said: “Clinical oncology training places are being filled in England, but our figures show consultant vacancy rates are also continuing to rise. There are simply are not enough qualified clinical oncologists working in English cancer centres right now.

“We are pleased HEE recognises projected oncologist numbers are ‘significantly below’ what is needed to give future cancer patients the world-class care they deserve. However, as with radiologist numbers, we worry that a small increase in trainee numbers represents a drop in the ocean compared to what we should be providing for patients.

“It is also vital that HEE includes clinical oncologists in its work to map how systemic and radiotherapy cancer care can be delivered in future.”

Dr Strickland concluded: “We appreciate HEE has produced this initial plan to address the rising incidence of cancer and the need to diagnose it earlier, as well as the reality of underfunded NHS services and current workforce deficits.

“What this means, however, is that the NHS will fail by a wide margin to fulfil the ambitions of the English Cancer Strategy. This is a missed opportunity for the Government to deliver on its promises and it will fall yet again to hard-pressed NHS professionals in cancer diagnosis and treatment to do the best they can.

“We will continue to work with HEE and our colleagues across the specialties on next summer’s comprehensive strategy, which we are pleased to see will be based on the future needs of patients, not just today’s staffing constraints.”              


Notes to Editors

  • HEE’s Cancer Workforce Plan can be downloaded here: https://hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Cancer%20Workforce%20Plan.pdf

  • For further information, please contact Emma Cooper on 020 7406 5941 or email emma_cooper@rcr.ac.uk Out of office hours please call 07554 998197.

  • The Royal College of Radiologists has over 10,500 fellows and members worldwide, representing the specialties of clinical oncology and clinical radiology.

  • The College sets and maintains the standards for entry to and practice in the specialties in addition to leading and supporting practitioners throughout their career www.rcr.ac.uk