UK experiencing ‘desperate’ shortage of radiologists

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Figures released by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) point to an ongoing shortage of radiologists in the United Kingdom. Nearly 97 percent of radiology departments in the U.K. were unable to meet diagnostic reporting requirements in 2016. 

Dubbed a “desperate situation,” the shortage compelled the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) to disburse an estimated $116.2 million (£88 million) for overtime reporting of X-rays and scans in 2016. 

And the problem is only getting worse. 

“The government seems intent on sticking its proverbial head in the sand, constantly failing to invest in the much-needed trainee radiologists who will become the consultants of tomorrow,” said Nicola Strickland, MD, president of the Royal College of Radiologists. “Instead, it is content to waste millions of pounds of NHS funds paying for scans and X-rays to be reported out-of-hours, as well as paying for expensive locum consultants just to keep hospital imaging departments afloat.” 

According to EuroStat, the statistical office for the European Union (E.U.), the U.K. has the third lowest number of radiologists per population of 31 audited E.U. countries, with 7.5 clinicians (trainees and consultants combined) per 100,000 patients. The E.U. average is 12.7 clinicians per 100,000 patients. 

The need for scans continues to grow as much as 30 percent, or three times more than the rate of workforce growth. Shortages of radiologists and complex scans due to technological advances is causing delayed scan results and hospital diagnoses. 

  • Nearly one in 10, or 8.5 percent of U.K. radiologist posts, were vacant in 2016, and 61 percent of those were unfilled for a year or more. 
  • The high proportion of retirements versus new consultant numbers means the UK’s radiologist workforce will expand by just 1 percent year-on-year. 
  • Last year, only 3 percent of NHS imaging departments could report all their patient scans within normal working hours. 
  • NHS could have paid for at least 1,028 full-time consultants in the same amount as overtime reporting in 2016. 

“Previous RCR workforce figures have made grim reading, and sadly 2016 numbers show there is no end in sight for the UK’s ongoing shortage of radiologists,” Strickland said. “The only lasting way to sort out this problem is to invest now in training many more radiologists, which will more than pay for itself in the near future.”