Thousands of cancer scans taken in Scottish hospitals are not being viewed for more than a month due a shortage of specialist doctors, according to a report published on Thursday.
The delays in interpreting the images are extremely serious and could be putting the lives of patients at risk, the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) warned.
A snapshot study in April found that there were around 4,000 cancer scans sitting in Scottish hospitals that had not been interpreted more than 30 days after being taken.
The RCR said the problem was due to a lack of radiologists, who interpret scans to help diagnose conditions such as cancer and also provide some treatments.
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“This is about patient safety. Within some of these unreported films there are bound to be patients with cancer. We see it as a huge safety issue,” Grant Baxter, chairman of the RCR’s Scottish committee, told the Times newspaper.
The RCR also conducted a census of staffing in radiology across the UK, which found that one in ten posts in Scotland are lying vacant. At least a fifth of the workforce is also expected to retire over the next five years.
Although the number of full-time radiologists working in Scotland has increased by 7 per cent over the past five years, the number of cancer diagnostic scans taken rose at a much higher rate.
The number of MRI scans and CT scans, which are both important for diagnosing cancer, increased by 67 per cent and 62 per cent respectively.
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“These figures are further proof of the shortages that are impacting on cancer tests across the country,” said Gregor McNie, public affairs manager in Scotland for Cancer Research UK.
“Radiologists are one of many essential health professionals we need in the NHS to diagnose cancers earlier, and without enough of them, people may miss out on timely scan results to tell them if they have cancer or not.”
In February, the RCR warned that radiology in Scotland was “on the brink of collapse” due to long-term unfilled vacancies, an ageing workforce, low numbers of trainees and increasing demand.
The Scottish Government has recently announced plans to fund at least 50 new posts for training radiologists over the next five years.
A spokesman said: “We have already increased the number of radiology consultants by more than 40 per cent in the last ten years and have increased training places by 20 per cent in the last four years. We are taking action to ensure we have enough radiologists for the future.”