This winter set to be most difficult on record with patients waiting longer for diagnosis, says RCR

Monday 7 November 2022

Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) Insight Panel survey reveals fears over winter pressures impacting patient safety, with two in every three doctors saying that winter pressures could lead to otherwise preventable deaths.

Key stats:

  • Three in every four (78%) doctors surveyed are highly concerned that this winter will be the most difficult on record for the NHS
  • More than one in two (54%) feel unprepared for the anticipated winter pressures
  • Two in every three (63%) felt that in the event of a difficult winter, potentially preventable deaths will occur
  • Two in every three (69%) believed stage 1 and stage 2 cancer diagnoses would be negatively impacted
  • Almost every doctor surveyed (93%) said patients would be left waiting longer for a diagnosis

’We are already working at the fullest capacity that both workforce and current equipment we have can deliver. We know if will get worse, but we have no excess staff or resources to throw at this to mitigate the problem.’

The poll, which closed on 11 October, shows the NHS’ clinical radiology and clinical oncology workforce is experiencing ‘unprecedented pressure’ and fears ‘the worst is yet to come’, with one respondent calling it ‘a disaster of the Government’s making’. Another described it as ‘different from the fear around the pandemic as so much of this was predictable and preventable.’

Responding to the survey, an anonymous doctor reported feeling ‘genuinely frightened for my patients, my team, my community, and myself’.

There is widespread belief that pressures this winter will potentially lead to preventable deaths and delayed diagnoses for patients.

Delayed diagnoses

Alarmingly, two in every three members believed that stage 1 and stage 2 cancer diagnoses would be negatively impacted. Early cancer diagnosis correlates directly with patient survival rates. Earlier this year Cancer Research UK told a health committee that:

’Early diagnosis of cancer improves survival rates, with the proportion of people with one of the four most common cancers who survive their cancer for ten years or more being significantly higher when diagnosed at the earliest stage 1 than at the latest stage 4’

Over 80% of patients seeking diagnosis will require a scan, making radiology central to an efficient NHS. Almost every doctor polled (93%) said pressure means patients will be waiting longer for a diagnosis this winter. The RCR member worries are supported by Diagnostic Waiting Times and Activity NHS England figures collated in August 2022, which revealed more than 35,000 people in England are waiting over thirteen weeks for an MRI or CT scan. This is 26,000 more than in August 2021.

Responding to the survey results, Dr Katharine Halliday President of The Royal College of Radiologists said:

’This is a grave wake up call for the government. By an overwhelming majority, our doctors believe this winter is on track to being the most difficult ever, with the prospect of preventable deaths and delayed diagnoses casting a long shadow over the health service. Doctors are tired, fearful and reaching breaking point.

’If the Government is serious about catching cancer early and eliminating preventable deaths in winter, they urgently need to commit to a fully costed and funded healthcare workforce plan.

’Without more funding, patients risk going undiagnosed or waiting far too long for treatment, neither of which is acceptable.’