By Lauren Nicolle

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) is warning that a shortage of clinical radiologists and clinical oncologists is having a “devastating impact” on patients.

Two new reports by the RCR have revealed that there is a 17% shortfall of clinical oncologists and a 29% shortfall of consultant radiologists.

The College is now warning that without proper investment in workforce recruitment and retention, the situation will only worsen, with the report predicting there could be a 39% shortfall of clinical radiologists and 26% shortfall of clinical oncologists by 2026.

Nearly all respondents are concerned about workforce morale, stress and burnout among staff

The findings over the survey are based on the responses of every single Clinical Director and Head of Service across the UK on 1 September 2021 (clinical radiology) and 1 October 2021 (clinical oncology).

Cancer centre heads of service are becoming increasingly concerned about how workforce shortages are affecting the quality of patient care, with the number rising from 52% in 2020 to 67% in 2021, while 88% are concerned about delayed treatment for patients at their centre.

Clinical radiology directors are equally concerned, with 97% saying they are worried about the backlogs and delays patients are experiencing while 81% said the same about patient safety. 

Concerns about workforce morale, stress and burnout among staff were also extremely prevalent, with 100% of cancer centre heads of service and 98% of clinical radiology directors worried that this may lead to more doctors leaving the profession.

Short staffing in these areas has an impact on the entire health service

The College is now calling for a long-term strategy to grow the workforce, including continued investment, a sustained increase in trainee numbers and a clear plan for global recruitment and a focus on doctor retention.

The report emphasises that interventional radiologists carry out critical minimally invasive procedures. This reduced the requirement for surgery and its associated risks and recovery times.

Investing in this workforce will therefore help to reduce the impact of the backlog and improve patient outcomes.

With an estimated 50,000 cancer diagnoses missed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic, it is now vital that there are enough staff to carry out vital tests and treatments.

Clinical radiology departments are vital to achieving a timely diagnosis and ensuring the patient receives correct, efficient and effective treatment. If these departments are not fully staffed, the College emphasises that the impact is felt across the entire health service.

“Simply unsustainable”

Health bosses have welcomed the 15-year strategy that addresses NHS staffing, but Rory Deighton Acute Lead at the NHS Confederation, said that a more detailed plan is now urgently needed.

“The Government simply cannot delay any longer the need for a public, accountable and fully funded workforce plan that tackles the immediate staffing crisis,” he said.

RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson described the situation as “simply unsustainable”, adding that the lack of doctors is having a clear effect on the NHS’s ability to “diagnose cancer, heart disease, stroke and many other devastating diseases.”

“More training places have been provided recently, but we need a long term, fully funded sustained investment that builds in a permanent increase in training numbers, Trust funding to employ these trainees, and significant investment in IT and equipment.

“Doctors are burnt out and if we don’t address these workforce issues soon, the picture is going to get a lot worse in future years,” she added.