RCR: Early cancer detection requires more resources

Although it expressed support for Prime Minister Theresa May's focus on early cancer detection in her Conservative Party Conference speech on 3 October, the U.K. Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) also questioned whether this goal can be achieved without funding for more radiologists and clinical oncologists.

RCR President Dr. Nicola Strickland said the college was extremely pleased to hear the Prime Minister recognize how crucial early diagnosis is to surviving cancer, and to give cancer detection such prominence in her keynote speech. However, the announcement of a new cancer strategy was a surprise to the radiological organization.

Strickland hopes, though, that May's support will bolster the nation's current five-year cancer strategy plan, which began in 2015 but has made "slow progress" in improving patient outcomes due to a lack of investment in new staff and in vital imaging and radiotherapy equipment.

The National Health Service (NHS) undoubtedly needs better diagnostic equipment; surveys have shown 1-in-10 CT scanners and nearly one-third of MRI scanners in U.K. hospitals are technically obsolete, according to Strickland.

"The promise of widespread Rapid Diagnostic Centres is fantastic in theory, but it needs to be substantiated and thought through before it can become reality," Strickland said in a statement. "We've seen these centres have great success in Denmark -- not only picking up more cancer cases, but also a whole range of diseases and conditions that can then be treated earlier -- and trials in the U.K. have been encouraging. But these clinics require dedicated imaging and cancer doctors to treat patients, and because our radiologist and clinical oncologist workforce is already running at a deficit, who is going to staff them?"

In the meantime, Strickland said the RCR is looking forward to seeing the details of the government's new cancer strategy and hopes that both it and the forthcoming NHS Long Term Plan for England actively address the struggling workforce.

"We know our hospitals have the capacity and full capability to train the radiologists needed to bring about Mrs. May's promised step-change in early cancer diagnosis, if only the government would fund more radiology trainees," Strickland added. "The very latest scanners and one-stop clinics will be useless to patients without the increased numbers of imaging doctors and oncologists we will need to run them."

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