The oncology workforce is under strain and a census has revealed an urgent need to address longstanding issues in workforce planning.
The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) 2015 census finds that 28% of unfilled consultant posts have been vacant for 12 months or longer, and many cancer centres are experiencing difficulties in recruiting new members of staff.
Furthermore, nearly 1 in 5 of the oncology workforce could retire in the next five years and in some regions the figure is as high as 26%.
Dr David Bloomfield, Medical Director Professional Practice at the RCR, said: “One in two people will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes. While cancer treatments are improving all the time, the complexity of planning and delivery of treatment is increasing too, which means more time is needed to plan each patient’s treatment. Patients are benefiting from a succession of effective treatments for advanced disease, often over many years.
“The clinical workforce is growing, but not quickly enough and the trends identified by our census reveal an oncology service moving steadily towards crisis.”
The census reveals that 67 additional full-time consultants are required to cover the excess workload undertaken by the current workforce.
Furthermore, two thirds of the current trainees are female. Women are more likely than men to adopt less than full-time working patterns, meaning that while the size of the workforce may increase, the number of whole-time equivalent (WTE) oncologists may remain the same or even fall placing additional strain on already overstretched services.
Bloomfield added: “High-quality cancer care can only be achieved with sufficient numbers of oncologists and we are calling on Government and NHS bodies across the four nations to undertake rational, joint planning of the oncology workforce so that patient care does not suffer further.”