The NHS is spending millions on outsourcing to prop up a shortage in radiologists, according to new figures from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR).
Its annual workforce report shows the UK needs another 1,004 full-time radiologists to meet demand, with that shortfall stretching to 1,610 by 2020. And experts warn the situation is likely to get worse.
Radiologists are specialist doctors that use imaging techniques, such as x-rays, to diagnose and treat diseases.
The RCR report found that the NHS spent an estimated £116 million on outsourcing scans and related overtime to cover last year’s staff shortages, up from £88m in 2016 and almost double the amount spent in 2014 (£58m).
Matt Case, Cancer Research UK’s policy manager, called the latest figures extremely concerning.
“Radiologists play a vital role in diagnosing cancer and with cancer rates increasing, the NHS needs more staff to be able to meet future demand and to diagnose more cancers earlier,” he said. “The Government must address this cancer workforce crisis in their long-term plan for the NHS.”
The report shows that outsourcing costs have risen across the UK.
The NHS paid out £99.3m last year in England, up from £47m in 2014, while in Wales £4.9m was paid out in 2017, compared to just £1.9m in 2014.
Scotland, which has seen radiologist numbers decline over the last four years, also saw outsourcing costs increase, from £3.5m in 2014 to £4m last year.
RCR President Dr Nicola Strickland urged the Government to fund training of new radiologists.
“The irony is that the amount spent on overtime scan reporting and contracting scans out last year would pay for more than enough fully qualified, in-house radiologists, if only the money were allocated to train them.”
In December last year, Health Education England – who are responsible for training health professionals – published a short-term plan for how to tackle staffing issues . And in June the Prime Minister announced the NHS in England will receive an extra £20bn per year and said that the NHS workforce was a top priority in the new, long-term plan for the NHS.