RCR: Long waiting times highlight chronic shortage of radiologists

2014 09 16 12 51 15 78 Breaking News 200

Many patients are waiting more than 30 days to receive the results of x-ray, CT, and MRI scans due to a chronic shortage of radiologists in the U.K., according to new research from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR).

Radiology departments in the National Health Service (NHS) in England were asked how many studies had currently waited longer than 30 days for a report. The survey was sent out in October and distributed through the regional networks; about 50 departments responded on an anonymous basis, according to Dr. Giles Maskell, RCR president.

Dr. Giles MaskellDr. Giles Maskell
Dr. Giles Maskell

For 81,137 x-rays and 1,697 CT and MRI scans, survey respondents said it took more than 30 days for a radiologist report to become available. Assuming these numbers reflect the national picture, the RCR estimates that approximately 300,000 patients currently are waiting more than a month for x-rays to be analyzed, and some 6,000 patients have waited more than a month for CT and MRI results.

"The results we have quoted are the aggregate responses from those departments. We don't know how many departments saw the invitation and didn't respond, nor can we confirm that the responders were absolutely representative of the country as a whole, but they do include a range of hospitals from very large to very small and cover most geographical areas," Maskell wrote in an email to AuntMinnieEurope.com.

The number of respondents to the survey corresponds to around a quarter of radiology departments in England. About 43 million imaging investigations were performed in the NHS in England last year, he added.

The RCR is concerned that the situation could result in delays in diagnosing cancer and other serious illnesses, anxiety for patients waiting for test results, wasted journeys for patients expecting test results, and a waste of time and other resources throughout the healthcare system.

"This snapshot survey raises serious concerns for patient safety," Maskell stated. "Although most of these x-rays and scans will not show serious abnormalities, some will show findings, which would allow an expert to diagnose cancer or another serious condition at a stage at which it could be cured."

The RCR blames the delays on a "chronic shortage" of radiologists in the U.K. It estimates there are 48 trained radiologists per million people. By comparison, there are 92 trained radiologists per million people in Germany, 112 trained radiologists per million in Spain, and 130 trained radiologists per million in France.

The RCR suggested that networks of radiologists could provide services to a population greater than that traditionally served by a single hospital to bring equitable imaging access for patients.

"There is no doubt that in some parts of the U.K. patients are suffering unnecessarily while they wait for the results of diagnostic examinations that can take an unacceptably long time to be reported," commented Richard Evans, the CEO of the Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR).

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