New report reveals workforce crisis in UK breast cancer screening and diagnostic services

A report published today reveals a looming crisis in the UK breast cancer screening and diagnostic workforce.

The report, The breast imaging and diagnostic workforce in the United Kingdom, reveals major challenges facing services as they cope with an ever-increasing demand for tests. A survey was conducted of diagnostic breast services across the UK. Responses were received from 65% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units.

  • Understaffed: 25% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units operate with just one or two consultant radiologists and have no cover for sickness or absence.
  • Retirements:  21% of breast radiologists are likely to retire by 2020 and 38% by 2025. Figures for other staff working in breast units show a similar pattern. This will impact severely on breast cancer screening and diagnosis.
  • Vacancies:  Around 13% of consultant breast radiologist posts across the UK are vacant. The number of unfilled posts has doubled since 2010. Too few of these specialists are being trained.

Commenting on the report, author Dr Hilary Dobson OBE, chair of The British Society of Breast Radiology said:

“This report reflects the experience of breast teams throughout the UK. The number and complexity of breast imaging examinations is rising and services cannot cope.

We are already working collaboratively with other staff groups and maximising the use of newer technologies to meet the changing needs of our patients. The future of breast cancer screening services is at risk without urgent investment in the workforce.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now said:

“These findings are of tremendous concern. This trend unfortunately represents a major issue underpinning our ability to diagnose and treat women with breast cancer in the UK.

“Much more must now be done to ensure our screening services are properly resourced and our NHS workforce is sufficiently supported.

“Our governments must take action so that patients do not suffer as a consequence of short staffing. We hope this report will provide a firm basis to plan the training of new radiologists so that anticipated gaps are ready to be filled by experts of the future.”

Dr Giles Maskell, President of The Royal College of Radiologists said:

“We do not have enough radiologists. The impact of this is being felt across the spectrum of cancer care from screening to treatment and follow up. We will never achieve the best possible outcomes for patients if this is not addressed.”