UK healthcare organizations speak out: Radiology workforce needs backup to handle breast screening backlog

Public Health England (PHE) revealed this month that, since 2009, approximately 450,000 women around the age of 70 were not sent invitations to receive breast cancer screening due to an IT issue. Since the issue was first announced, thousands of women have already called PHE for help.

Jeremy Hunt, the U.K.’s health and social care secretary, has said the government will provide catch-up screening to women under the age of 72 within six months. According to a letter from representatives of three large breast health organizations, however, that six-month timeframe is not realistic unless significant changes occur. 

The full letter, as well as additional statements regarding the ongoing situation, can be read on Breast Cancer Now’s website. The letter is signed by Dr. Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, and Gareth Thomas, president of the Society and College of Radiographers.

“Upholding this commitment will require extra evening and weekend clinics across the country, run by screening staff already stretched beyond the limit,” the letter stated. “There simply aren’t enough available staff to cope with this extra workload on ‘overtime’ alone. While the number of women attending screening in England increased by 13 percent from 2012-2016, the breast radiologist workforce grew by just 6 percent.” 

The letter included a plea for reinforcements from the government to help radiologists and technologists help the hundreds of thousands of women affected by the mistake.

“With letters already going out to those affected by the failure, we urgently need the Government to deliver on its pledge to take ‘major steps’ to expand the program’s capacity,” the letter stated. “We need a robust, realistic and fully-resourced workforce plan to deliver the necessary catch-up screening and ensure the future of this world-leading service.”