The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has called for a fully-costed, long-term funding package to safeguard the future of National Health Service (NHS) radiology and oncology. The calls follow the release of the UK government’s annual Budget, which was predominantly concerned with measures aimed at boosting the UK’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.
The Treasury’s previous Spending Review announced a one-year settlement for the NHS, which included a fund for tackling coronavirus backlogs and £325 million to upgrade aging imaging equipment, and was welcomed by the RCR.
Responding to this most recent budget statement, RCR president Jeanette Dickson said: “Following the autumn spending review—which did grant some welcome funding for parts of the health service—this budget understandably centred on ongoing economic safeguards and stimuli.
“However, the long-term needs of the NHS cannot be ignored forever. The backlogs and delivery challenges caused by coronavirus continue to impact hospital patients and the services that treat them. This statement could have been an opportunity to give much-needed, additional relief to a very tired NHS.
“Imaging and cancer teams are working through recent backlogs but demand only goes in one direction. Even before the immense pressures of COVID-19, the UK radiologist workforce was understaffed by 33%, and the clinical oncology workforce by 19%. There is only so much our stretched medical specialties can do without more resources.
“Treatment waiting lists are now at a record high, and millions of those patients waiting will need some form of radiological diagnosis or treatment.
“At the end of last year, more than 72,000 patients in England were waiting six weeks or more for a CT or MRI scan7, and the most recent COVID-19 winter surge will be hitting waits further.
“Tens of thousands of cancer cases potentially went undiagnosed last year, and front line cancer teams across the UK are telling us that they are seeing more patients presenting with later stage, often less curable cancers.
“To tackle these ongoing care demands, protect against endemic surges of COVID-19, and ensure we can give future patients the high-quality imaging and cancer treatment they deserve, we must have a fully-costed, sustainable funding package from the UK Government that deliberately addresses the equipment, IT and, crucially, workforce needs across NHS radiology and oncology.
“We will work hard over coming months to engage with NHS leaders and training colleagues, and vigorously champion these fundamental long-term priorities ahead of the Treasury’s comprehensive spending round anticipated later this year.”