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Radiologist staffing crisis sees two thirds of posts vacant for over a year

Radiologist staffing crisis sees two thirds of posts vacant for over a year

Two thirds of vacant radiologist positions have been unfilled for a year or more, according to figures released by the Royal College of Radiologists.
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Two thirds of vacant radiologist positions have been unfilled for a year or more, according to figures released by the Royal College of Radiologists.

The figures, released in the clinical radiology UK workforce census 2016 report, found that across the UK, 8.5% of radiologist posts are unfilled.

In Wales, 13.1% of posts are vacant, whereas Northern Ireland has the highest vacancy rate, with 20% of posts now empty.

Shortage set to worsen

This means the UK now has the third lowest number of radiologists per population of 31 EU countries, with 7.5 clinicians (radiology trainees and consultants combined) per 100,000 patients. The EU average is 12.7 per 100,000.

This figure looks set to worsen as around a fifth of the radiologist workforce in England and Scotland is planning to retire within the next five years. In Wales that number jumps to 30%.  

Based on the high proportion of retirements versus new consultant numbers, the report says the radiologist workforce will expand by just 1% year-on-year.

Delayed results

The report underlines the ongoing shortage of imaging doctors, making late hospital diagnoses and delayed scan results a likelihood for patients.

According to the report only 3% of NHS imaging departments were able to report all of their patient scans within normal working hours last year.

However, the report found that the need for scans is continuing to grow with the number of CT and MRI scans rising by more than 30% from 2013 to 2016 – three times more than the rate of workforce growth.

To cover the shortfall in 2016 the NHS paid out an estimated £88 million for out-of-hours reporting of X-rays and scans, while nearly two-thirds of vacant radiologist posts sat empty for a year or more. 

'No end in sight'

Dr Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said the workforce report shows ‘no end in sight for the UK’s ongoing shortage of radiologists’.

She said: ‘The only lasting way to sort out this problem is to invest now in training many more radiologists, which will more than pay for itself in the near future.’

But she said the Government has ‘its proverbial head in the sand’ on the workforce crisis, ‘constantly failing to invest in the much-needed trainee radiologists who will become the consultants of tomorrow’.

She added: ‘Instead, it is content to waste millions of pounds of NHS funds paying for scans and X-rays to be reported out-of-hours, as well as paying for expensive locum consultants just to keep hospital imaging departments afloat.’

Dr Strickland said that without an increase in the radiologist workforce, ‘more patients will miss out on vital new interventional procedures, and they will wait even longer for diagnoses of cancer and serious diseases’.

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