Radiologist shortage leaves patient care at risk, warns royal college

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  11 Oct 2017


The UK does not have enough radiologists to meet imaging and diagnostic demands in the NHS, the Royal College of Radiologists has warned.

Nearly all radiology departments in the UK (97%) said that they had been unable to meet their diagnostic reporting requirements in 2016 within their radiology staff’s contracted hours, the college’s 2016 census report found.[1] “This points to an insufficient number of radiologists to meet the increasing demand for imaging and diagnostic services,” it said.

The census received responses from all 202 radiology department leads in the UK. The workforce crisis comes at a time of well documented shortages in other specialties, including paediatrics,[2] obstetrics,[3] emergency medicine, rheumatology, psychiatry, and general practice.[4]

Radiology has the second lowest proportion of trainees to consultants when compared with other hospital based specialties, said the report, with 26 trainees for every 74 consultants, compared with an average in all specialties of 40 trainees for every 60 consultants. “This raises questions about the future replenishment and sustainability of numbers in the consultant workforce,” the report warned.

The census also found that nearly one in 10 UK radiologist posts (8.5%) were vacant during 2016, nearly two thirds of which (61%) were unfilled for a year or more.

Although the proportion of whole time equivalent consultant radiologists in the UK increased by an average rate of 3% a year over the past six years, the workforce has not kept pace with an increase in clinical demand, the report noted.

The workforce shortage was particularly prominent in Scotland, where the consultant workforce grew by 7% from 2010 to 2016 but demand for computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans increased by over 10%.

The census also found that 22% of the consultant radiologist workforce (698 consultants) were predicted to retire in the next five years. The report said that this and the shortage of consultants raised questions about “the sustainability of radiology services in the near future,” adding, “Unless the situation is addressed urgently, there is a clear risk that patient care will be significantly affected.”

The NHS paid nearly £88m (€98.5m; $116m) in 2016 for backlogs of radiology examinations to be reported, the census found—an amount that could have paid for at least 1028 full time radiology consultants.

To cover the backlog, 92% of radiology departments paid radiologists to work overtime, 78% outsourced reporting to independent teleradiology companies, and 52% employed ad hoc locums.

References

  1. Royal College of Radiologists. Clinical radiology UK workforce census 2016 report. Oct 2017. [Link] .
  2. Rimmer A. Increase paediatric trainee numbers to meet workforce shortfall, says Royal College. BMJ Careers 27 April 2017. [Link] .
  3. Kmietowicz Z. Almost nine in 10 obstetric units have unfilled rotas, finds audit. BMJ  2017;358:j3855. [Link]   [Link] .
  4. Rimmer A. BMA urges more career flexibility and better occupational support to fight workforce crisis. BMJ  2017;358:j4381. [Link]   [Link] .

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers

 arimmer@bmj.com

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