Top doctors warn shortage of NHS radiologists will rise to 40 per cent by 2028

The shortages of NHS radiologists will rise from 30 to 40 per cent by 2028, top doctors have warned amid reports of worsening delays in patients getting life-saving treatment.

The drastic shortfall will paralyse the system if no action is taken to retain doctors and recruit more, The Royal College of Radiologists said.

In a new survey of doctors, nearly half – 47 per cent – of those working in cancer centres said they saw weekly delays last year– up from 28 per cent the year before.

Reported delays in radiotherapy are also worsening, with 43 per cent of clinicians reporting weekly delays in 2023 – up from 22 per cent in 2022.

The report comes as a new analysis from Cancer Research UK found more than 380,000 cancer patients have not been treated on time since 2015.

Dr Katharine Halliday, RCR president, said: “The crisis in the radiology and oncology workforce is jeopardising patients’ health.

“We simply do not have enough doctors to manage the increasing number of patients safely, and this problem will only worsen as demand continues to rise and more doctors leave the NHS.

“The immense strain on an overburdened system, coupled with exhausted staff, and increasing demand, creates a toxic cocktail for our NHS.”

According to the RCR, the NHS currently needs 30 per cent more clinical radiologists and 15 per cent more clinical oncologists.

It warned demand for specialist cancer treatment was outstripping the workforce by 6-8 per cent last year while the number of consultants able to deliver it only increased by 3.5 per cent.

“This glaring imbalance has created a crisis where demand vastly outstrips the capacity of the cancer workforce,” said Dr Halliday. “As a result, despite advancements in cancer treatments, workforce shortages are impeding delivery, depriving patients of potentially life-saving therapies.”

One consultant told the RCR: “I can no longer defend the NHS as an exemplary healthcare system. We are all failing and in so doing failing our patients.”

The RCR said to cope with soaring demand the NHS spent £276 million on outsourcing diagnostic imaging services and using agency staff, but this would have been enough to fund 2,690 yearly consultant salaries.

The college has written to major political party leaders asking for urgent investment in developing the workforce and for the incoming government to work with the NHS to “spell out” how it will recruit, train and retain more clinical oncologists and radiologists.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: “It is imperative that all political parties commit to making this general election a turning point for cancer.

“Post-election, any UK government must invest in the staff and equipment that are desperately needed to ensure patients have access to the best cancer care. Cancer patients expect nothing less.”