Scottish patients at risk from radiologist shortage

Wednesday 15 February 2017
  • Nine in 10 hospitals cannot cope with daily workload of reporting images1
  • 5 year average of unfilled radiology posts is 8% (2015)1 and rising

Scottish patients are experiencing delays of a month or more to diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer due to a shortage of qualified radiologists RCR has warned.

The lack of radiologists specialising in interventional radiology in particular means that only two of the 12 Health Boards can currently offer full 24-hour cover for emergency minimally invasive pinhole procedures, such as those to stop bleeding after a road traffic accident or after childbirth.

Scotland already has a lower number of radiologists than comparable European countries. The impact of this has been exacerbated by a combination of additional factors including chronically vacant posts, imminent retirements and low trainee numbers, alongside a 55 per cent increase in demand for services in just five years. These have all contributed to spiralling delays which doctors believe are now at crisis point, posing a serious and immediate risk to patient safety.

The Royal College of Radiologists has proposed a number of measures to address the crisis which they believe require immediate implementation. These include calling upon the Scottish Government to support recruitment from overseas to fill vacant consultant radiologist posts, increasing radiology trainee numbers, and improving connectivity in technology services so that at least some reporting can be completed by available radiologists at other sites.

Commenting on the measures, RCR spokesman Dr Grant Baxter, Consultant Radiologist and chairman of the College’s Standing Scottish Committee said:

“Having been a doctor for 34 years I have never seen it as bad as this. Scottish radiology is on the brink of collapse, and if that happens there will be no medical diagnoses or surgical operations at all, since none can occur without radiologists interpreting the scans and X-rays. A perfect storm of increased demand, no significant increase in consultant numbers or trainees, chronically unfilled posts and a tsunami of expected retirements in the next three years means that we need a sustainable solution NOW for the sake of our patients”.

There have been calls for more reporting using non-doctor professionals – for example radiographers – to help clear the backlog in reports. However, the RCR feels strongly this is not an appropriate solution and that patients should not be denied the benefit of having a specialist radiologist doctor interpret their scans and chest X-rays. 

“We work closely with our radiographer colleagues, some of whom already provide additional reporting capacity. However, more radiologists are required to report on complex and cancer-related scans and perform life-saving radiological procedures.”

“Furthermore, with a vacancy rate of 13 per cent, there is a huge national shortage of radiographers; it makes no sense to make a bad situation worse by depleting further the skilled workforce needed to take the X-ray pictures and scans. We need action now to find workable, sustainable solutions to the crisis in Scottish radiology. Patient safety is at risk.”

- ENDS -

For details on the RCR proposed measures.

For media enquiries: please contact our Communications Team on   /  07554 998197.

References

  1. The Royal College of Radiologists. The clinical radiology workforce in Scotland: 2015 census report. London: The Royal College of Radiologists, 2016.
  2. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-datasets/-/hlth_rs_spec 
  3. The Royal College of Radiologists. Unreported X-rays, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations: results of the February 2016 snapshot survey of English NHS acute trusts. London: The Royal College of Radiologists, 2016.