UK must train more cancer doctors to save lives and avoid NHS ‘wasting’ £400m

More cancer doctors must be trained in the UK to avoid the NHS "wasting" £400 million over the next decade and compromising patient care, radiologists have warned.

A report from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) and WPI Economics said tackling the shortage of imaging and cancer doctors was "necessary to ensuring that patient outcomes do not continue to suffer".

The report said an estimated 1,939 full-time consultant clinical radiologist posts were unfilled across the UK, representing a 33 per cent shortfall, with a 19 per cent shortfall in clinical oncology consultant posts – the equivalent of around 189 full-time doctors.

Without action there would be shortages of 6,000 consultant clinical radiologists and 700 consultant clinical oncologists by 2030, it warned.

"These shortfalls are costing lives and costing the NHS money through the need to outsource work and recruit from overseas as well as facing increased treatment costs for patients diagnosed late, which would be better spent elsewhere, improving patient outcomes," the report said.

"Tackling this shortage is necessary to ensuring that patient outcomes do not continue to suffer. Doing it in a sustainable way will mean that we do not continue to place excessive pressure on an already overstretched workforce, meaning that productivity, retention and experience will also rise."

Cancer referrals have fallen during the pandemic

The report estimated that the NHS would "waste" £400 million over the next nine years unless the Government invested in imaging and cancer doctors because it would have to spend money on outsourcing and overseas recruitment.

The authors estimated that investment in the two specialties would cost £652 million by 2030, providing nearly all the clinical oncologists the NHS would need and around half the forecast shortfall of radiologists.

But continuing with existing strategies to manage workforce shortages, including overseas recruitment and investing in new technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), would cost just over £1 billion by 2030.

Dr Jeanette Dickson, the RCR president, said: "The cancer backlog is well documented and it is clear we currently do not have enough imaging and cancer doctors to provide safe patient care. Right now, the NHS is short of nearly 2,000 radiologists and 200 clinical oncologists, and projections from this report show those shortages could hit 6,000 and 700 by 2030.

"There are great innovations in the pipeline for imaging and cancer care, including developmental AI and community diagnostic centres, but the bottom line is that AI and new models for delivering care will not work without more consultants on the ground.

"Radiology and oncology are central to diagnosing and treating cancer, stroke, heart disease and many other devastating diseases, and without a properly staffed workforce we simply cannot ensure good and safe patient care."

The report comes as the NHS faces the biggest backlog in its history. Around 5.6 million people are waiting for hospital treatment in England alone.

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