Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has been urged to sort out a radiologist staffing crisis which could see patients developing incurable cancer.
Opposition politicians called for action after a leading radiologist claimed delays to processing scans had resulted in delays in diagnosis that could see patients’ conditions becoming terminal.
Dr Grant Baxter, Royal College of Radiologists in Scotland chairman, said his speciality was on “red alert” because of a staff shortage and its impact on cancer tests.
He also warned that unless something was done now Scotland’s radiology service would disappear in the next few years.
Dr Baxter said delays to the testing process meant there were now thousands of scans in Scotland which had yet to be interpreted by an expert.
“There is a huge shortage in Scotland of radiologists and we are in crisis,” Dr Baxter told the BBC.
“We now have thousands of unreported scans. There will be patients sitting on these unreported lists who have cancer and nobody knows it and these patients may well change from having a curable cancer to an incurable cancer. The government have made a reasonable start in that they have offered ten additional trainees per year for the next five years. But to be quite frank that’s not even enough to cover our retirements.
“Those numbers need to be boosted up to 25 a year to address this issue and it needs to start now. We are on red alert. There is absolutely no doubt about this. If we don’t address this issue now, there simply won’t be a service in the next three, four or five years.”
From the end of the week Raigmore Hospital in Inverness lost its last interventionist radiologist, meaning patients will have to be sent out of the area for treatment.
A NHS Highland spokeswoman said: “For patients with immediate life-threatening conditions requiring an interventional radiologist arrangements are in place to transfer to NHS Tayside or NHS Grampian.”
She said there is an international shortage of radiologists but an applicant for a substantive interventional radiologist post will be interviewed at the end of the month. A locum is due to start in autumn and a retired radiologist will return one a day a week from October.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “This is another vital element of the NHS workforce which has suffered at the hands of SNP mismanagement. Health is a fully devolved area – the SNP is in charge of this and no-one else. That’s why it has to answer for these unacceptable failings.”
Labour’s health spokesman, Anas Sarwar, said: “What Scotland needs to see from the new Health Secretary is an acceptance that we have a staffing crisis and then a credible plan to fix it.”
Ms Freeman said: “We have increased the number of clinical radiology consultants by 41% and increased radiography staff by 24.4 per cent.”