The UK could face a deficit of nearly 6,000 consultant clinical radiologists by 2030.

Six keys to sustaining imaging departments during staffing shortages

December 14, 2022
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
If things don't change, the United Kingdom is on track to have a deficit of almost 6,000 consultant clinical radiologists by 2026. To mitigate the damage of staffing shortages, experts are stressing the importance of spreading best practices and training strategies across British hospitals.

The Royal College of Radiology discussed these challenges in an RSNA session entitled, "United Kingdom Presents: Building and Sustaining Imaging Services in the UK." Here are six of the key points the speakers made:

Invest in trainees
Providers should invest more in retention and recruitment efforts than outsourcing, insourcing and radiographer reporting, said Dr. Priya Suresh, medical director of education and training for RCR. “Training more radiologists is a key solution.”

Every major radiology department should take on trainees to help clear the backlog and facilitate care sooner. While reducing costs, trainees can eventually become permanent replacements for the large number of radiologists retiring in the next few years.

Establishing more imaging academies to redistribute trainees in different regions is also important, as is having more specific credentials and regional, national and global radiology teaching programs.

Create communities
Retaining radiologists means establishing welcoming environments that look after their needs. This includes increasing protected time for development and giving them more tasks such as performing advanced procedures, managing data, and preparing patients. Time and funding for personal development are critical.

Invest in PACS, AI and leadership
Radiologists are keen to lead imaging departments and should be equipped with the tools and resources to do so in their own way. The right health IT strategy is a critical component.

“Digital issues are holding us back, and that is the key to trying to make the most of our workforce,” said RCR president Dr. Kath Halliday. "And leadership is vital.”

Form imaging networks
Hospitals should join networks of imaging departments that work together, connect digitally and share practices, managerial functions, workforce plans and even equipment replacement plans to save time.

This helps patients, many of whom move between different hospitals, and can smooth out capacity differences such as those for long MR wait lists.

Lower costs follow higher quality care
Focusing on quality rather than cost reduces the chances of patients suing hospitals, as well as readmissions and complications. “Overall, it’s economical to treat patients well,” said Halliday.

iRefer and Quality Standards of Imaging
Taking advantage of tools already at your disposal is an important step for mitigating staffing shortages. Speakers pointed to iRefer, the RCR's guidelines for determining the most appropriate imaging procedures for a wide range of clinical problems, as an example. It stops unnecessary tests and wasted costs, which is “important in these cash and capacity strapped times” said Dr. Julian Elford, RCR’s medical director of membership and business.

Quality Standards for Imaging accreditation is another useful resource, offering standards of excellence that providers can abide by to increase confidence in diagnoses and care, and comply with regulations and guidance documents. “There are also market advantages if you are trying to demonstrate that you are a good, well-run and organized service, on behalf of patients,” said Dr. Raman Uberoi, medical director of professional practice and clinical radiology at RCR.