Staff shortages impacting cancer care

A 17 per cent shortfall of clinical oncologists and a 29 per cent shortfall of consultant radiologists contributed to an estimated 50,000 missed cancers in 2021 due to a backlog of care in the pandemic, says the Royal College of Radiologists.

This conclusion is based on two new census reports from the RCR which it says “demonstrate the scale of workforce shortages in radiology and oncology departments across the country and the devastating impact on patients”.

The consultant radiologist workforce shortfall currently stands at 1,669 whole-time equivalents (29 per cent) and this is estimated to rise to 39 per cent by 2026 without further investment.

Concerns over cancer care are growing with 97 per cent of clinical directors saying they are worried about the backlogs and delays patients are experiencing, and 81 per cent citing worries about patient safety. A significant number (55 per cent) are also concerned they do not have sufficient numbers of interventional radiologists to deliver safe and effective patient care.

A continued shortfall of clinical oncologists (189, or 17 per cent) in 2021 is expected to increase to 26 per cent by 2026 without additional investment. The report highlights that 67 per cent of cancer centre heads of service were concerned about workforce shortages affecting the quality of patient care in 2021 compared with 52 per cent in 2020.

All cancer centre heads of service (100 per cent) reported being concerned about workforce morale, stress and burnout amongst their staff, further threatening workforce numbers as doctors are tempted to leave the profession.

RCR President Dr Jeanette Dickson said: "Whenever I speak to consultant radiologists and consultant oncologists, the number one issue is workforce. The situation we’re in is simply unsustainable, and as these reports show, the impact of doctor shortages is being felt across the country and affecting our ability to diagnose cancer, heart disease, stroke and many other devastating diseases.

"More training places have been provided recently, but we need a long-term, fully funded sustained investment that builds in a permanent increase in training numbers, Trust funding to employ these trainees, and significant investment in IT and equipment. Doctors are burnt out and if we don’t address these workforce issues soon, the picture is going to get a lot worse in future years."

The RCR is calling for long-term strategy with sustained investment to grow the workforce, including a sustained increase in trainee numbers, a clear strategy for global recruitment and a focus on doctor retention.

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