Medical Director Clinical Oncology, Education and Training,
Royal College of Radiologists (RCR)
Can the Government produce a 10-Year Cancer Plan with an effective, realistic and properly funded blueprint for the decade ahead?
In his foreword to the call for evidence for the 10-Year Cancer Plan, the then-Secretary of State mentions, inter alia, five areas of focus:
- Improvement in early-stage diagnosis
- Boosting the cancer workforce
- Intensifying research
- Better personalised care
- Tackling health inequalities.
The Royal College of Radiologists’ 2021 Workforce Censuses for clinical radiology and clinical oncology were based on a 100% response rate throughout the UK, and they make sobering reading:
- 17% current workforce shortfall, set to rise to 26% in five years, without significant changes
- Negative effects on waiting lists, patient safety, staff wellbeing and morale
- Problem exacerbated by post-Covid backlog
- Increasing cancer prevalence
- Increasing complexity of treatment
- Marked geographical disparity in workforce distribution.
It is now estimated that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The Government quite rightly aspires to earlier cancer diagnosis, but this will exacerbate demand and increase waiting time pressures. Meanwhile, we are seeing more and more patients presenting later, which requires more complex treatment, putting even more pressure on workforce.
It is now estimated that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
The Government understands the importance of good cancer treatment, but too often, strategies are created that miss the fundamental problem – there simply aren’t enough cancer doctors. As our outgoing President Dr Jeanette Dickson put it recently: “Whenever I speak to consultant radiologists and consultant oncologists, the number one issue is workforce.”
The RCR has been banging the workforce drum for several years now and we’re beginning to be heard. More training places were granted last year, and we’ve been invited to Select Committees and APPGs to give evidence. But our latest census shows just how much work there is still to do. We need a long-term, fully funded and sustained investment that builds in a permanent increase in training numbers; we need Trust funding to employ these trainees; and we need significant investment in IT and equipment – AI and machines, but also an integrated IT system that doesn’t frustrate doctors trying to share vital data. Doctors are, quite simply, burnt out and if we don’t solve these problems, we’re going to see even more cancer specialists leaving the NHS.
Workforce is a global issue, but it’s also something that can be addressed. Any long-term strategy needs to build in a sustained increase in trainee numbers; a clear strategy for global recruitment and a focus on doctor retention.
Solve workforce; then (and only then) can we realistically begin to plan for the future.