Cancer patients could be put at risk by lengthy waits for diagnosis as new figures reveal that the number of radiologists is failing to keep pace with rising demand for scans.
Demand for MRI and CT scans soared by 55 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in Scotland, while consultant numbers only increased by 3 per cent during the same period, a survey by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) found.
Top doctors warned that the services were “on their knees” and called for immediate action to increase the workforce, who interpret X-rays and scans to diagnose diseases such as cancer.
The trend prompted concern that some cancers may go undiagnosed or be found too late if patients struggle to access scans.
Dr Giles Maskell, RCR president, said: “These latest findings show that our services are on their knees and there is currently no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Without immediate measures to alleviate the pressures, patients will wait even longer for the results of their X-rays and scans. Diseases such as cancer may go undiagnosed or get worse and become untreatable and patients will endure long periods of unnecessary anxiety.
“Urgent action is required from the government and NHS leadership. We need their help to bring in more radiologists from overseas, to increase the numbers of radiologists in training and to approve the modest investment needed to introduce new models of training and service delivery.”
Pressures on the service also meant that Scottish health boards spent £5.2 million on outsourcing work due to lack of capacity.
The number of Scottish consultants has remained static since last year, and nearly one in five plan to retire in the next five years, the college estimates.
However, vacancy rates have fallen from 13 per cent in 2015, to just 6 per last year.
The figures raise queries on whether staffing could undermine the Scottish Government’s new cancer strategy. Last night a Scottish Government spokesperson defended its staffing record and highlighted investment in radiotherapy and diagnostics in their new cancer strategy.
The spokesperson said: “Under this government the number of consultant clinical radiologists have increased by 41 per cent.
“While evidence also shows that Scotland has more consultants per head of population than England, we continue to work closely with NHS boards to support their efforts in recruiting and retaining radiologists.
“Our £100 million cancer strategy will look to enhance cancer services with this year’s actions, including an £8 million investment in new radiotherapy equipment and £2 million to improve cancer diagnostics.”