Staff shortages complicate NHS breast screening crisis

Staff shortages make it unrealistic to offer mammograms promised within six months to all victims of the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) breast screening scandal, according to a letter to the Daily Telegraph from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), the Royal College of Radiographers, and Breast Cancer Now.

In their letter, the presidents of the organizations and Breast Cancer Now CEO Baroness Delyth Morgan told the Daily Telegraph that the 20% shortfall of radiographers and mammography staff means there is not enough of a workforce to cope with the workload facing them -- even if the existing staff worked evenings and weekends. These attempts to rectify the "colossal failure" by screening services could leave women with suspected cancer worse off, forcing some to wait longer, Morgan said.

"Thousands of women are rightly being offered catchup screening, but it will fall on the same workforce responsible for performing mammograms for those referred urgently with symptoms of breast cancer to pick up the strain -- and it's vital we ensure women do not pay the price," she stated in the letter.

Breast Cancer Now is calling for the government to provide extra resources for the catchup program, routine screening, and mammograms for women with suspected cancer, the Daily Telegraph reported in its article on 14 May.

"Unless these staff shortages are addressed, it is inevitable that some women will experience delays in receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, or peace of mind, which would be extremely distressing," she noted. "This is completely unacceptable, and we need the government to heed these wake-up calls and deliver on its promise to expand the screening workforce as soon as possible."

The breast radiologist workforce grew by just 6% from 2012 to 2016, while the total number of women receiving screening increased by 13%, according to the organizations.

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