Plans to boost cancer workforce are “scratching the surface,” says radiology leader

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  06 Dec 2017

Plans to increase the number of clinical radiologists in the NHS by nearly 300 by 2021 do not go far enough and will not improve cancer care, the president of the Royal College of Radiologists has warned.

Nicola Strickland was responding to Health Education England’s (HEE) Cancer Workforce Plan, published on 5 December.[1] While she welcomed its focus on the cancer workforce, she said that the NHS would still fail to fulfil the ambitions of the English cancer strategy “by a wide margin.”

In the plan HEE said that it would boost radiology training places by 35 a year and would also try to ensure that more trainees enter the workforce rather than leave the profession.[1]

It said, “We estimate the levels of attrition from clinical radiology training programmes to be of the order of 10%. Improving this by [three percentage] points would increase the numbers of consultants by 23.”

HEE is also piloting an international recruitment scheme aimed at recruiting 30 clinical radiologists initially and at least 120 more by 2021. And it plans to work with other agencies to explore incentives to retain radiologists, including drawing on best practice for flexible working, as well as “retire and return” schemes.

The plan said, “If we set an ambition to reduce the number of retirees by 5%, and other leavers by 10%, for example, that would give us an additional 47 members of staff by 2021.” But the Royal College of Radiologists described the measures around retention and international recruitment as a “stopgap.”

Strickland said, “We are already in dire need of many more fully trained radiologist consultants. Imaging departments across England have more than 300 vacant radiologist jobs and are paying out over £70m a year to outsource scan reporting . . . 35 extra trainee posts will only scratch the surface when we need hundreds more to meet existing shortfalls, let alone future demand.

“While it is great news that other diagnostic specialties are being recognised and boosted as part of the workforce plan, without an even greater commitment to radiologist training the government’s 28 day cancer diagnosis target will remain purely aspirational.”

In terms of oncologists, HEE’s plan said that it would increase the number of training posts by 10% in 2018-19. It will also try to reduce the number of trainees leaving the workforce and help retired oncologists return to work.

Jeanette Dickson, vice president of the college, said, “Clinical oncology training places are being filled in England, but our figures show consultant vacancy rates are also continuing to rise. There simply are not enough qualified clinical oncologists working in English cancer centres right now.

“We worry that a small increase in trainee numbers represents a drop in the ocean compared to what we should be providing for patients.”

Strickland said that the college would work with HEE on the comprehensive workforce strategy, which is expected to be published next summer and will focus on demand as well as on staffing constraints.


  1. Health Education England. Cancer workforce plan—phase 1: delivering the cancer strategy to 2021. Dec 2017. [Link] .

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

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