Treasury must increase spending to protect patients, warn UK’s leaders in imaging and cancer care

Wednesday 30 September 2020

The three UK professional bodies that represent the doctors, physicists and expert allied health professionals that provide radiology and cancer radiotherapy across the NHS have come together to call for dedicated service investment in the Government’s next departmental spending round.

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR) and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) have each put forward representations to the Treasury to inform the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).       

These submissions are united in giving clear calls for the Government to combat the primary perennial obstacles that slow down care for the NHS’ imaging and cancer patients – chronic staff shortages and the woefully inadequate provision of equipment and IT. 

Other considerations include ensuring ongoing financial support for the NHS as it works to mitigate COVID-19 and resourcing new service models in need of funding, including community-based diagnostic services and networks of expertise between hospitals.

Key packages needed to improve hospital imaging, outlined by the three organisations, include (please see individual submissions for detail and costings):

  • Radical boosts to staff funding to ensure the NHS has the radiologists, diagnostic radiographers and physicists, engineers and technologists it needs to clear scan backlogs and keep up with the ever-growing demand for hospital imaging and interventional radiology
  • Funding to replace thousands of outdated scanners still in use across the NHS, and purchase more machines to meet demand
  • Funding to update antiquated IT hardware and allow trusts and health boards to connect their radiology IT platforms so patient scans can be quickly shared across hospitals  

Key funding needed to improve non-surgical cancer care includes:

  • Committed investment to ensure the NHS has the clinical oncologists, therapeutic radiographers and physicists, engineers and technologists it needs to keep up with cancer rates and roll out new radiotherapy treatments
  • Investment to replace and sustainably maintain the special linear accelerator machines and linked scanning equipment that deliver lifesaving radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients
  • Dedicated funding to upgrade the aging hospital computers used to plan radiotherapy treatment, as well as ongoing IT investment to bolster the networking of cancer teams around the UK 

Additional issues raised in the submissions include the need for ongoing NHS funding to roll out new screening programmes, improve quality assurance across hospital radiology departments, maintain staff wellbeing initiatives and develop and oversee promising new artificial intelligence solutions.

RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson said:

“Patients were suffering long waits for scans before COVID-19 hit, and the UK’s cancer outcomes have continually lagged behind the rest of Europe due to our need to improve early diagnosis rates and access to modern treatment. The coronavirus pandemic has compounded an already desperate lack of resource across imaging and cancer care, but it has also highlighted just how rapidly the NHS can adapt and improve, when it is given trust and provision to do so.

“If the Government really is serious about speeding up cancer diagnosis and streamlining patient care, then now, more than ever, it must commit to investing in a long-term future for the NHS’ radiology and cancer services.”   

SoR President Chris Kalinka said:

“The Society of Radiographers is asking the Chancellor to recognise the urgent need for investment in diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy in the CSR. Demand for these vital clinical services has outstripped growth in capacity for many years.

“The experiences of diagnostic radiographers and therapeutic radiographers during the pandemic response have demonstrated their outstanding commitment to service provision and innovation. This in turn has emphasised that investment in the radiographic workforces, together with radiologists, oncologists and medical physicists is now essential if our vital diagnostic and therapeutic specialities are to be sustainable for the future.”

IPEM President Professor Stephen O'Connor said:

“Radiology and radiotherapy services in the NHS are under-funded and short staffed. The Government must address funding shortfalls and workforce shortages. The real life consequences for people with cancer are delays in diagnoses and deferral of vital treatments. This impacts quality of life, leads to poor clinical outcomes and ultimately a reduced long-term survival. Improved patient outcomes will follow investment in both equipment and staff.

“If the Government is willing, lives can be changed for the better. Investment in radiotherapy physics staffing, other medical physics and clinical engineering workforces, along with investment to replace out-of-date machines used to treat cancer, will deliver better patient outcomes."

Find out more about each organisation’s CSR submission:

Read the RCR’s submission
Read SCoR’s submission
Read IPEM’s submission