Budget funds for imaging: Thanks but workforce growth is essential

CDCs and new equipment are only part of the answer says Richard Evans

Published: 27 October 2021 Government & NHS

Community Diagnostic Centres are a great idea.

They were suggested (then called Community Diagnostic Hubs) by Professor Sir Mike Richards in his report about diagnostic capacity, published in February this year.

Mike knows what he is talking about. He recognised that decades of under-provision of staff and equipment for diagnostic imaging services have left the NHS dangerously under-resourced to meet growing and justifiable demand. This was clear before Covid. Now, the problem is made worse by the backlogs that have naturally built up as imaging services have dealt with the pandemic.

The announcement that this week’s budget will include funds to secure recovery and to tackle waiting lists in imaging is of course welcome. In the news, this funding is linked to Community Diagnostic Centres as well as to resourcing hospital departments. Inevitably, the focus is on lots of new equipment for the service. This is not before time. Evidence that the UK is hopelessly under-supplied with equipment will not come as any surprise to Diagnostic Radiographers. It is great to see that someone is taking notice at last.

But new equipment is not enough. We all know that every new piece of imaging kit requires a workforce to operate it and to report the results. People are needed to be educated and trained, qualified and registered if the investment is to provide the expansion in capacity that is needed.

Put another way, people are needed to be educated and trained, qualified and registered before the public will see the service improvement that they deserve and which they have every right to expect. What the public does not deserve is to be told only half of the story.

It is the public, the service users, our patients who are most poorly served by announcements that give every impression that the budget settlement for imaging, however welcome, will immediately solve the imaging backlogs. In fact, the new funding cannot deliver tangible improvements in capacity for several years.

Alongside the need for front line workforce, these numbers cannot grow without additional academic posts in Higher Education to support the expanding workforce numbers required. This isn’t simple as capacity to provide the essential clinical element of training is also scarce.

In many areas, patients will see that a new Community Diagnostic Centre will appear and some may be fortunate enough to be given appointments in the relatively Covid-safe and more convenient facilities. However, we should not be hoodwinked into thinking that the centres will really achieve a significant impact in meeting over-all demand until there are sufficient Diagnostic Radiographers, radiologists, scientists and support staff to operate the new equipment optimally both in the diagnostic centres and in the local hospital departments.

Until there is some honesty about the challenges of building imaging capacity, announcements of funding support will be at least partially deceptive.

The people who are not deceived are those whom the government depends on the most. The clinical staff that struggle daily to sustain a decent service…and by and large succeed in doing so…these Diagnostic Radiographers are feeling most acutely overlooked.

Members of the Society of Radiographers are exhausted, stressed and over-stretched. It is hard to see good news in an announcement that implies that their efforts will be stretched even further while we wait for some meaningful workforce growth.

Members of the Society of Radiographers are angry that announcements about new imaging equipment and services have emerged once again without any mention of the vital professionals that are needed to operate them.

Members of the Society of Radiographers are most of all frustrated that their patients are being deceived.

Of course the funding is good news. But please don’t let anyone think that it is more than the start of a process to build the service we all want.


Richard Evans

CEO, Society and College of Radiographers