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NHS leaders say improving radiology services is mission-critical for the NHS to cut waiting lists

20 November 2023 at 22:03:21

A group of leading NHS and healthcare leaders have called improving the productivity of radiology services “mission-critical” for the NHS if it is to achieve its targets for cutting waiting lists. Chronic underinvestment in equipment and staff has left radiology services facing major challenges.

The paper, ‘Improving Productivity in Radiology Services’, published today synthesises the conclusions of a roundtable discussion held earlier this year, with participants including former Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, Mike Farrar, and Professor Erika Denton, Medical Director of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust. The roundtable discussion took an in-depth look at the problems radiology services face and, more importantly, identified short and longer-term solutions.

The panel’s recommendations for addressing the current crisis in radiology are to:

  1. Empower radiology networks with clear mandates such as deploying staff across the network, procuring large contracts, addressing unwarranted clinical variability, providing out-of-hours services, and promoting recruitment to radiology.

  2. Create and promote two or three exemplar networks to demonstrate best practice, including how these fit into the new governance models in Provider Collaboratives and ICBs. The focus must be on accelerating the effectiveness of the networks across the NHS.

  3. Employment contracts for radiology staff should reflect the move towards network working. Staff should be contracted to work for an imaging network rather than a hospital, which may mean imaging networks need to become statutory bodies.

  4. Investment in technology to streamline workforce planning, rostering, supply-demand management and business intelligence within radiology departments.

  5. Ensure workforce planning makes appropriate assumptions on the need for radiology staff commensurate with the application of technology and new ways of working. Avoid the assumption that AI replaces this need and design new ways of working whereby AI augments and enhances performance.

  6. Maintaining strong team morale is essential for attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce within radiology. There is no ‘one size fits all approach’ so local departments require flexibility and autonomy to develop a high-quality workforce.

Radiologist and health strategy and policy expert, Dr Farzana Rahman, a co-author of the paper said: “Radiology productivity must be a priority if the NHS is to be put onto a sustainable footing for the decade ahead. Diagnostic capacity and outpatient activity are major bottlenecks in the smooth and timely flow of patients through most pathways of care in the NHS.

“As a radiologist myself, I know how frustrating this is for hard-working healthcare professionals who want to be able to deliver better care for their patients. Our passion for changing radiology services for the better is what has driven us to publish this paper, and we now need firm commitments from policymakers and national and local NHS leaders to take on these recommendations and commit to improving radiology services.”

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