Shortage of therapeutic radiographers will have 'critical effect' if decisive action is not taken to recruit more
The Society of Radiographers has criticised ‘lukewarm efforts’ by the UK government and the health administration in England to address an ongoing shortage of the only health professionals qualified to plan and deliver radiotherapy, claiming that cancer treatment at centres could come to a standstill because there are not enough students being trained.
“For some years there have not been enough qualified therapeutic radiographers. This threatens to cause delays to patients receiving treatment,” said Richard Evans, the Society’s chief executive officer.
“But the shortage of qualified staff could become significantly worse because universities which deliver the degree are reporting that the number of students who have signed up for the three-year degree courses from September has slumped disastrously,” he continued.
“In one instance, we have been told that recruitment of school leavers and mature students to their course has dropped by 50 per cent compared to previous years. One provider has said they are planning to drop the therapeutic radiography programme for 2019 because of the difficulty in recruiting students.”
Jo McNamara, admission lead for therapeutic radiography at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "We train around a third of England’s therapeutic radiographers and this year we have seen a significant reduction in applications, despite an increase in recruitment activity.
“Like other healthcare training providers across the country, we will be training less students this year and this will have a huge impact on the number of available graduates joining the healthcare workforce in three years’ time. This is without taking into account any attrition which may occur in future years."
Currently half of patients diagnosed with cancer receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. This is set to rise to six out of 10 patients by 2025, according to an all-party parliamentary group, which has been looking at radiotherapy services.
“Despite acknowledging that more needs to be done to encourage young people to consider a career in therapeutic radiography, Health Careers, the government agency responsible for promoting recruitment to professional roles in the NHS just isn’t doing enough, particularly compared to the millions of pounds being spent on television advertising and social media campaigns to recruit more nurses,” Richard Evans commented.
“Ensuring sufficient numbers of nursing staff is of course vital but if we don’t also do more to raise awareness and encourage people to seriously consider therapeutic radiography as a career choice, the treatment of cancer patients will be delayed because there won’t be enough staff.
“NHS England’s ‘Cancer care radiotherapy upgrade programme' commits to £130m invested in technology and equipment, but makes no mention about the people needed.
“The situation is particularly frustrating because in the NHS Cancer Workforce Plan6, Health Education England talk about recruiting 1560 more therapeutic radiographers by 2021, 18 per cent more than in 2016.
“If we don’t have enough students taking the courses, that figure will be unachievable.”