A report indicates that the UK has
the third lowest number of radiologists
per population of 31 audited EU

UK has third lowest number of radiologists per population out of 31 EU countries

October 20, 2017
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
The United Kingdom holds the third lowest number of radiologists per population out of 31 audited EU countries, according to the Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census 2016 Report issued by The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR).

RCR recorded a rate of 7.5 radiology trainees and consultants combined per 100,000 patients throughout the country, compared to the EU average of 12.7 per 100,000 and found that nearly one-in-ten posts for British radiology jobs were vacant in 2016 with nearly two-thirds remaining unfilled for one year or more while the need for scans continued to grow.

“Scans are integral to patient care, and demand for X-rays, MR and CT scans is growing every year,” Dr. Nicola Strickland, president of RCR, said in a statement. “As well as doctors having more scans to report, improving imaging technology means these scans are becoming ever more complicated, taking longer to interpret. Cutting-edge radiology, such as life-altering stroke intervention and cardiac imaging, can only keep pace if we have enough radiologist doctors to do it."

The lack of radiologists raises the chance of patients missing out on necessary interventional procedures as well as longer waiting time for diagnosis of cancer and other serious diseases.

The report indicates that 4, 970 radiologists were working full- or part-time in 2016 with 8.5 percent of posts unfilled. Of that percentage, nearly 61 percent of positions were vacant for 12 months or longer.

The rate of vacancies was further divided based on regions, with England at 7.4 percent and Scotland, 10 percent. Wales and Northern Ireland had the highest of all four at 13.1 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

RCR worries that the amount of vacancies will hinder the ability to keep up with the evolving complexity of scanning, which is on the rise. For instance, the number of MRs and CTs performed increased by over 30 percent between 2013 and 2016, three times more than the rate of growth for the workforce.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that a fifth of radiologists throughout the U.K., England and Scotland are set to retire within the next five years. In Wales, the rate is 30 percent. The retiree proportion when compared with that of new consultants shows only a one percent year-by-year increase in the U.K. radiologist workforce.

The report also recorded spending on backlog radiology exams by the National Health Service (NHS) with an estimated £87.9 million spent on such procedures in 2016. Hospitals in England spent the most at £71.2 million, followed by Northern Ireland at £6.5 million, Scotland at £4.6 million and Wales at £4.5 million. Only three percent of NHS imaging departments reported all their patient scans within normal working hours.

Strickland says that the government should instead invest more in training and less on X-rays reported out-of-hours, with the report showing that the estimated £87.9 million could have been applied toward employing at least 1,028 full-time consultants.

“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,” she said. “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 … 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.”

RCR did not respond to an email for comment.