Interventional radiologists issued a red alert warning over staff shortages in Scotland as the only full-time specialists based in the Scottish Highlands step down. The Scottish Government has been urged to answer for “unacceptable failings”.
From mid-August 2018, one health board will no longer have a substantive consultant interventional radiologist in post and plans to send emergency patients out of the area for treatment.
In a letter to local MSP Edward Mountain, the NHS Highland chair, David Alston, confirmed that there would be “no full time substantive consultant interventional radiologist based at Raigmore [Hospital in Inverness, Scotland] from the middle of August following a retiral and a resignation from the existing establishment of two consultants”.
Grant Baxter, Royal College of Radiologists in Scotland chairman, called on the government to boost the number of trainees to avert major problems after pledges were made for an extra 50 over five years.
Speaking to BBC Scotland, Baxter said: “We are on red alert. There is absolutely no doubt about this. If we do not address this issue now, there simply won’t be a service in the next three, four, five years. When radiology does well, your health service will do well. When radiology fails, the health services fail because every patient will come through an imaging radiology department. This situation is simply unsustainable and has resulted in thousands of studies currently lying around unreported, with all the safety issues that entails. Treatment regimes for cancer patients are almost entirely imaging based—therefore treatment decisions are being delayed.”
A spokeswoman for the health board explains that, for patients with immediate life-threatening conditions requiring intervention, there are arrangements in place to transfer to NHS Tayside or NHS Grampian.
There is an international shortage of radiologists, who are in increasing demand. However, an applicant for a substantive interventional radiologist post at NHS Highland will be interviewed at the end of the month. A locum is due to start in autumn and a retired radiologist will return one day a week from October.
A global recruitment drive was launched for nine boards across Scotland in February. Adverts in Western Europe, India, Australia, the USA and Canada sought to fill 32 radiologist vacancies.
Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman said: “Despite an international shortage of radiologists affecting health services worldwide, since 2007 we have increased the number of clinical radiology consultants by 41% and increased radiography staff by 24.4%. We will also create an additional 50 specialist training places for clinical radiologists over the next five years.”
Nicola Strickland, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, expressed “grave concerns” about the workforce crisis in NHS Highland.