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Shortage of nearly 2,000 radiologists hinders care in UK

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | April 28, 2021
European News X-Ray
Nearly 2,000 more radiologists are needed to meet safe staffing and pre-COVID-19 scanning demands in the U.K.
A 33% shortage of radiologists in the U.K. has left patients waiting in long lines to be scanned.

And it’s only projected to get worse by 2025 with a 44% shortfall, according to a Royal College of Radiology census, which estimates a need of nearly 2,000 more radiologists in the NHS.

“We cannot deliver adequate services for our patients. We can no longer provide cancer and acute care safely,” said hospital leaders who completed the census.

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The NHS requires at least another 1,939 radiology consultants to meet staffing and pre-COVID-19 demands for scans. Exacerbating the shortage is the departure of doctors who stayed on at the height of the pandemic, with 58% of hospital leaders saying they lack enough diagnostic and interventional radiologists to keep patients safe. In addition, 47% of NHS trusts and health boards report not having the staff or transfer arrangements to run safe 24/7 interventional radiology services.

While consultant numbers are increasing, they are not doing so fast enough, with waiting lists at record highs and backlogs for exams such as MR and ultrasound, leaving thousands of patients waiting more than six weeks for a scan, according to the NHS. Stricter infection control and social distancing measures brought on by the pandemic have also made scanning slower.

RCR says radiologist staffing is at a “tipping point,” with the shortage threatening NHS recovery and patients facing “long, anxious and inevitable” waits for diagnoses and surgery.

Making matters worse is a recent poll of 1,089 radiology consultants this month that found 41% feeling moderately or severely demoralized in their jobs and 48% planning on working less after the past year. A fifth are considering leaving the NHS, while 12% are considering leaving in the next 12 months — a potential loss of 735 consultants and trainees nationwide.

To meet demand, the number of new radiologists being trained in the U.K. would have to triple from 300 to 900 training places annually, according to RCR. “Unless hospital imaging capacity is massively improved, the U.K. will continue to lag behind other countries on cancer survival rates, and patients will face worse outcomes for trauma care and all kinds of conditions. The need for investment is urgent,” said RCR’s radiology workforce lead professor, Mark Callaway, in a statement.

The U.K. currently employs 4,277 radiology consultants, with 3,902 working full-time. This is an increase of 170 full-time consultants over 2019. Still, radiologist shortfalls range from 24% to 38% across the U.K., and without proper training and better staff retention and recruitment, a shortfall of 3,613 consultants is predicted in 2025.

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