Clinical oncology UK workforce census 2020 report


Produced yearly, The Royal College of Radiologists’ (RCR) census provides robust data on the state of the clinical oncology consultant workforce in the UK. The findings are essential reading for local and national workforce planners and are the cornerstone of RCR policy. 

Our most recent findings were returned at the end of 2020, following the most challenging year in NHS history. The pandemic underlined the undisputed value and resilience of the healthcare workforce in responding to the major healthcare challenge brought about by COVID-19; cancer services responded with adaptability and innovation. Nevertheless, the pandemic has presented many challenges for cancer services that will continue to reverberate for some time. As cancer referrals return to pre-pandemic levels, there is concern regarding the backlog of cancer patients who may require more complex treatment on top of a growing demand for cancer services. 

Key findings 

  • The CO consultant workforce has a shortfall of 17% (189 whole-time equivalents [WTE]) which is set to rise to 28% (401 WTE) by 2025. 
  • Despite overall growth in the CO consultant workforce there were parts of the UK where a quarter of cancer centres reported no gain or a decline in 2020.
  • Over half (52%) of cancer service leaders reported that workforce shortages have negatively impacted the quality of patient care. 
  • In 2020, 55% of CO consultant vacancies remained unfilled after a year compared with 29% in 2015.
  • In the 55+ age group, less than full-time (LTFT) working has increased from three in five CO consultants in 2015 to four in five in 2020.
  • The UK CO consultant workforce has grown by 3% per year (on average over the last five years). This falls below the 4% average annual workforce growth across all specialties in England. 
  • Workforce growth is forecast to slow down from 3% per year seen over the past five years to 2% per year over the next five years. 
  • The number of doctors starting specialty training would need to double for the next five years to close the forecast workforce gap.

These findings highlight the widening gap between the future demand for cancer services and the specialist oncologist workforce who provide the service, shortages which threaten to put the NHS Long Term Plan and cancer recovery in jeopardy. Urgent and decisive action is needed now to ensure the appropriate clinical oncology (CO) workforce is in place so that improvements to cancer survival can be realised.