Cancer doctor shortage threatens patient welfare says report

A shortage of cancer specialists could be putting patients at risk, according to a new report.

The study from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) said cancer centres were reporting “dire” staffing levels with more than half of vacant posts being empty for more than a year.

It said almost 1,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day and demand for radiotherapy is going up 2% every year, while demand for chemotherapy is rising 4% a year.

In 2018, there were 863 full-time equivalent clinical oncology consultants working across the UK’s 62 cancer centres.

This is up 46 on the figure the year before but the RCR said the increase is not keeping up with demand.

The report warns that cutting-edge cancer therapies – such as immunotherapy and proton beam therapy – may not be delivered to all those who could benefit without more investment.

And it pointed to “clear evidence of increased stress and burnout” among doctors due to them taking on extra work to plug workforce gaps.

Dr Tom Roques, the RCR’s medical director of professional practice for clinical oncology and lead author of the workforce report, said: “The UK is seeing more and more fantastic innovations in cancer treatment – from the introduction of new immunotherapy drugs to the NHS’s first high-energy proton beam radiotherapy centre.

“Clinical oncologists are vital to the roll out of these new therapies but we do not have enough of them and our workforce projections are increasingly bleak, which begs the question: What kind of service will we be able to provide for our patients in future?”

The RCR estimates that, by 2023, the NHS will need a bare minimum of 1,214 full-time clinical oncology consultants.

Based on current trends, there will only be 942, it said.

Responding to the report a Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Improving cancer care and reducing waits is a priority for the NHS, and we recently unveiled a series of commitments as part of the NHS Long Term Plan backed by £200m to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.

“To ensure patients get the best possible care we have almost 400 more medical and clinical oncology consultants working in the NHS since 2010, we’re expanding medical training places by 25% and we will also launch a Workforce
Implementation Plan later this year to support the NHS with the staff it will need in future years.”

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