Professor Ted Baker, the chief inspector of hospitals, has written to all acute and community trusts asking them to provide data on how quickly they report back on x-rays, CT and MRI scans, and what type of scans are not being reviewed by a qualified radiologist.
RCR president Nicola Strickland said without more investment in training and overseas recruitment of radiologists “unreported scans will continue to mount up”. Over the past three years, the RCR has repeatedly warned that imaging departments are struggling.
The Royal College of Radiologists told HSJ radiology reporting back logs “may lead to [a patient’s] condition advancing and requiring more and longer treatment”.
The CQC’s letter, seen by HSJ, said the review would allow it to “assess the national situation concerning radiology reporting”.
Professor Baker told HSJ he launched the review because the CQC had become “aware” of the issue through its “inspections and ongoing monitoring of NHS trusts”. Despite concerns being raised about radiologist workforce shortages since 2015, a CQC spokeswoman said there was “not a trigger” that caused the review to start this month.
The review comes ahead of the publication of a CQC report into Portsmouth Hospitals Trust, which is expected to address potential harm caused by radiology backlogs. The CQC spokeswoman said the report is due out “soon [but] an exact date is yet to be confirmed”. HSJ understands it could be released as early as next week.
Two of the trust’s clinical commissioning groups, Fareham and Gosport and South Eastern Hampshire, said in a governing body paper they were “significantly concerned in respect of the impact of delayed reporting” at the trust. Its other commissioner, Portsmouth CCG, also said if reporting delays were not resolved at the trust “patients will continue to be subject to risk of missed diagnosis and delayed treatment as a result of the backlog”.
She said: “The issue of reporting backlogs in imaging departments has been a major concern for the RCR for some time. Over the past three years, the RCR has repeatedly warned that imaging departments are struggling – with the UK’s radiologist workforce not growing anywhere near fast enough to cope with the ever increasing need for scans.
“This sadly can only mean that patients will spend weeks with the stress of not knowing if they have cancer or another serious disease. In some cases that may lead to their condition advancing and requiring more and longer treatment.”
Last month, the royal college reported that in 2016, English NHS hospitals spent over £71m outsourcing the reporting of radiology examination backlogs amid a 7.4 per cent vacancy rate of UK radiologist posts – two-thirds of which were vacant for more than a year. It also found the need for MRI and CT scans grew by almost a third between 2013 and 2016.