Hospital Dr News

Radiology shortages will hinder NHS recovery from Covid

The NHS needs 2,000 extra radiologists to clear scan backlogs, meet safe staffing quotas and keep up with demand.

That’s the conclusion of a report by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) which warns the shortages pose a serious threat to NHS recovery.

It shows that the UK now has 4,277 radiology consultants, equating to 3,902 doctors working full-time, an increase of 170 full-time consultants compared to 2019.

While consultant numbers are increasing, it’s not fast enough to keep up with patient demand. RCR shortfall calculations, which use rota and service demand figures to give a realistic estimate of NHS requirements, show radiologist shortfalls range from 24-38% across the UK.

Meanwhile, a recent poll to gauge radiologists’ morale found half intend to cut their hours, and three times as many consultants than normal plan to leave the NHS in the next year.

Professor Mark Callaway, radiology workforce lead at The Royal College of Radiologists, said: “Our new report has found the NHS needs thousands more radiologists to ensure patients get the safe and effective treatment they deserve, amplified by the first-hand experience of frontline doctors who witness the impact of consultant shortages on patient care on a daily basis.

“The staffing forecast for 2025 makes grim reading, but, even more worryingly, swathes of demoralised radiologists are imminently looking to work less or leave the NHS.”

Waiting lists for hospital treatment have now hit record highs across the UK and tens of thousands of patients currently face long waits for scans.

If nothing improves, the RCR predicts the UK’s 33% actual radiologist shortfall will hit 44% by 2025. 

Closing the forecast gap between consultant supply and demand would require the number of new radiologists in training across the UK to treble, from 300 to 900 training places per year.

A poll of 1,089 UK radiology consultants at the start of April 20217 found 41% are moderately or severely demoralised in their jobs post-pandemic. Nearly half (48%) are planning on working less after the past year, and a fifth (22%) are now considering leaving the NHS.

Improve pay

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, commented: “It’s vital that employers and Government do all they can to retain our most skilled hospital doctors, while doubling down efforts to recruit enough for the future.

“After the year of going to enormous lengths in responding to the pandemic, often putting their own health at risk in doing so, our exhausted doctors need time to rest and recuperate.”

He added that the Government could go some way to retaining senior doctors by awarding them a 5% pay rise – not the 1% currently being considered.

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