27 Oct 2017
This article is more than 3 years old

Shortage of radiologists could hold back ‘biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis in decades’

Plans to rollout mpMRI scans before a first biopsy for all UK men suspected of prostate cancer are under threat, as long-term vacancies and increasing demand put a strain on the NHS's radiology services.

A report released this week by the Royal College of Radiologists has revealed a serious shortage of radiologists in the NHS. Nearly one-in-ten radiologist posts were vacant during 2016 and nearly two-thirds of these remained unfilled for a year or more.

But the need for scans is going up. Between 2013-2016, the number of scans done across the NHS rose by 30 per cent – more than three times the rate at which the radiology workforce is growing.

The shortage could threaten the rollout of multi-parametric MRI (mpMRI) scans for men with suspected prostate cancer before a first biopsy – a technique proven to dramatically reduce unnecessary biopsies and one of the key priorities of our ten-year strategy to improve diagnosis of the disease.

We’re already busily working with health authorities, hospitals and radiologists to ensure the specialist equipment, guidelines and training are in place to make mpMRI scans a standard part of prostate cancer diagnosis across the UK. But having enough radiologists in place is, of course, critical to making this happen.

The government needs to urgently address the shortfall in radiologists with a long-term solution

"It’s deeply concerning that we have insufficient radiologists to meet the increasing demand for imaging and diagnostic services,” says Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK.

"The use of mpMRI scans is the biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis for decades. Yet patients will struggle to gain the benefits of this ground-breaking technique if there isn't the necessary highly skilled radiologist workforce available.

"The government needs to urgently address the shortfall in radiologists with a long-term solution. Workforce planning must adapt to ensure patients can benefit from breakthroughs which will ultimately save lives."