Royal College of Radiologists calls for urgent investment in breast cancer screening staff


Growing demand for screening is not being matched with the necessary investment in the breast radiology workforce

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) is warning of a looming workforce crisis facing breast cancer screening and diagnostic services in the UK. It is calling on the government to invest urgently in more resources to recruit and retain breast radiologists.

The establishment of a national breast screening programme in 1987, as well as successful public information campaigns on breast health against a background of technological advances, has resulted in a significant rise in both the number and complexity of diagnostic breast imaging investigations.

However, this growing demand is not being matched with the necessary investment in the breast radiology workforce. Many breast radiologist posts remain vacant, breast screening units are understaffed and large numbers of breast radiologists are due to retire by 2020.

Recent surveys carried out by RCR reveal:

  • 25% of NHS Breast Screening Programme units operate with just two or fewer breast radiologists and have no cover for sickness or absence
  • 21% of breast radiologists are likely to retire by 2020 and 38% by 2025. This will have a sever impact on breast cancer screening and diagnosis
  • Around 8% of 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

Breast screening is currently offered to women aged 50-70 in England. However, plans to extend the programme to some women aged 47-73 would mean the number of women potentially covered in the UK would increase by around 28%, from 8 million to 10.2 million.

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'The skill of breast radiologists in interpreting mammograms and other complex scans is vital to the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer as well as in the delivery of cancer screening programmes.,' said Dr Hilary Dobson OBE, chair of The British Society of Breast Radiology (BSBR). 'Without more breast radiologists to tackle this increasing demand, we cannot hope to achieve the best possible health outcomes for patients.'