Radiology services under strain and action needed

7 Nov 2018 - 11:09am

Waiting time targets being met and service well-managed but it’s unsustainable, says Auditor General

Rising demand, difficulties with recruitment and retention of staff, outdated and insufficient scanning equipment, along with IT weaknesses are putting radiology services in Wales under pressure. That’s the conclusion of a report published by the Auditor General for Wales, which calls for clear and targeted action to ensure that services are able to cope with future demand.

Despite these pressures, the report found that waiting time targets for radiology examinations are currently being met and radiology services are generally well managed.

There has been an improvement in waiting time performance over the last five years, with a reduction in the number of patients waiting more than eight weeks for an examination. This is supported by additional funding and outsourcing examinations to private sector mobile units and using spare capacity in other health boards. But, this is unsustainable in the longer term and some patients are waiting a long time for their examination results.

Demand is increasing, in some areas, by as much as 15% per year. We also found that all but one health board is struggling to recruit and retain radiologists and radiographers. All health boards have some equipment nearing the end of its life span and the core radiology information system is not fulfilling health boards’ needs.

The report also found that, while services are well managed operationally, there is scope to strengthen board level scrutiny and the strategic planning of services.

Given the nature of some of the issues facing radiology services in Wales, action taken alone by health boards will not be enough to ensure the future sustainability of radiology services – and national strategic planning is required. The Welsh Government has now established an ‘Imaging Taskforce’ to deliver a high level ‘Imaging Statement of Intent’, which contains actions for NHS Wales to address.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which focus on ensuring the development and implementation of a detailed plan which adequately addresses the challenges identified though our work and the Imaging Statement of Intent.

Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said:

“Radiology is a vitally important part of our NHS, helping to diagnose, monitor and treat disease and injuries. But it’s a service under strain and while it may be coping at the moment, this is unlikely to continue in the longer term. The report I am publishing makes some clear recommendations at national and local level and I call on NHS Wales to take clear and targeted action in response.”