Patients at risk of waiting longer for scans due to staff shortages
PATIENTS may have to wait longer for a range of diagnostic scans to help with their treatment, IPEM has warned following the publication of new research.
This has shown the Diagnostic Radiology and Radiation Protection (DR&RP) workforce in medical physics is less than half the level recommended by established staffing models, with some services working at less than one-third of what is recommended.
Almost 800 additional Clinical Scientists and technologists are needed to meet both the existing workforce need and the planned growth in the NHS diagnostic capacity. This figure includes an extra 220 medical physicists as recommended by the Richards Report (1) in 2020 to NHS England on Diagnostic Services to keep pace with patient demand.
The DR&RP workforce has a high vacancy rate, with a 9 per cent vacancy among Clinical Scientist posts and 7 per cent among technologist posts. To meet the required staffing levels in future, the number of scientists and technologists recruited annually to training posts needs to increase significantly to five times the current intake.
The backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is adding to delays to patients being seen and the lack of adequate staffing levels is also contributing to difficulties in implementing community diagnostic centres, or ‘one stop shops’ for diagnostic services, promised as part of the Richards Report.
Shortages of Radiation Protection Advisors
On top of this, the survey found a shortage of certified experts in radiation safety physicists, who provide advice and perform measurements to ensure ionising radiation is used safely. This includes ensuring there is adequate protection for all staff working in imaging and therapy services using ionising radiation and for members of the public in and around the facilities, minimising and controlling any risk.
Figures reveal that 42 per cent of NHS centres have only a single Radiation Protection Advisor, creating a single point of failure.
Clinical Scientists and technologists in diagnostic radiology work behind the scenes to ensure radiation exposure to patients is as low as required to ensure accurate diagnosis and that hospitals are compliant with current legislation and best practice.
They play a key role in optimisation (reducing the radiation doses to patients) whilst improving image quality for accurate diagnosis. They are involved in x-ray equipment selection and operation from the optimisation of clinical protocols used to physical measurements of radiation dose and equipment performance.
Matt Dunn, IPEM’s Vice President Medical Physics, said: ‘These figures are worrying, not only from the point of view of the medical physics and clinical engineering profession but more importantly because of the potential impact on patients.
‘My concern is that if action is not taken then patients will suffer from delays in their diagnosis and treatment. We would like to see a substantial increase in training places, which are adequately funded to encourage the scientists of tomorrow to enter the profession.’
Benchmark for staffing levels
Andrew Shah, IPEM’s representative on the National Imaging Workforce Group said: ‘This workforce report has given medical physics services a benchmark for a recommended staffing level, and for the first time a comparison across DR&RP services nationwide based on activity that should be delivered.
‘This report should be used to grow training capacity and established posts for clinical scientists and technologists to improve patient and staff safety.
‘Insufficient provision of medical physics staffing adversely affects the recovery of, and planned growth in, imaging services. The recommendations from this report need to be incorporated in local, regional and national workforce initiatives for DR&RP physics.’