Calls for major expansion of diagnostic imaging capacity

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed a new report from the NHS’ top cancer and screening advisor, which urges “major expansion and reform” of diagnostic services.

Last year, Professor Sir Mike Richards presented a report into overhauling screening services in England, which was set to be followed by a review of NHS England’s (NHSE) diagnostic capacity. 

Presented at yesterday’s NHSE board meeting, Sir Mike’s anticipated report, Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal, outlines the constraints facing NHS imaging, pathology and genomics services before and after the arrival of coronavirus, and makes a series of long-term recommendations to usher in new delivery models, improve clinical networking and connectivity and, fundamentally, increase NHS staff numbers. 

Primary recommendations for imaging from the review include:

  • The creation of new pathways to streamline diagnosis and separate emergency and elective patients, with a key mechanism being the creation of new community-based diagnostic services;
  • A doubling of CT scanner capacity over the next five years, other machine capacity to be increased in line with patient demand, and the upgrade of all imaging equipment over ten years old;
  • Training places for an extra 2,000 radiologists and 4,000 radiographers, as well imaging support staff;
  • Rapid development and regional leadership of imaging networks, enabled by improved hospital IT and home reporting facilities for radiology staff;
  • A review of the commissioning arrangements for imaging, including tariff incentives and service specifications;
  • Clarity around the regulatory landscape for imaging artificial intelligence and rapid evaluation of useful programmes in development. 

Welcoming the report, RCR president Dr. Jeanette Dickson said: “We cannot applaud Sir Mike enough for his accurate assessment of England’s NHS imaging services, their urgent need for increased resourcing and connectivity and, most crucially, more staff. 

“Alongside other diagnostic disciplines, imaging has been clearly identified as being at ‘tipping point’ before the advent of COVID-19, and now at increased need of ‘major expansion’ to support the ambitions outlined in the NHSE Long Term Plan (LTP). The RCR made these points before and during the course of the pandemic, and we are hugely pleased to see them amplified in Sir Mike’s review. 

“We welcome all of his recommendations to fund increased imaging capacity and accelerate new delivery models, which are urgently needed for services to recover and clear imaging backlogs, as well as diagnose and treat new patients during the endemic phase of coronavirus. Only a fully-funded, sustainable service will improve patient outcomes, reduce waits for diagnosis and treatment and enable rapid rollout of improvements, such as those promised in the LTP."