Chronic radiographer shortages biggest challenge for Lib Dem 62-day cancer treatment target

The Society of Radiographers has warned the Liberal Democrats’ pledge for cancer treatment would need improved radiographer recruitment

Published: 06 June 2024 Government & NHS

The Liberal Democrats’ pledge to write the 62-day target for cancer treatment into law will require solving the workforce crisis afflicting radiography, the SoR has warned.

Over 40 per cent patients currently wait longer than this 62-day target, the Lib Dems explained, but their intention is to enshrine the pledge into law.

However the SoR has warned this will be impossible without solving the NHS workforce crisis and improving radiographer staffing levels.

Chronic shortages

Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for the SoR, said that the Society welcomes the pledge to make this target a legal right.

“Therapeutic Radiographers plan and deliver radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients, so we know how vital it is that patients are seen promptly,” he said.

“But chronic radiography workforce shortages mean that the current target for 96 per cent of cancer patients to receive radiotherapy treatment within 31 days has not been met since July 2021.” 

In 2023, 11 per cent of patients waited more than 31 days after the decision to treat had been confirmed, compared with 5 per cent in 2021.

'The scale of the challenge should not be underestimated'

Mr Rogers continued: “In some hospitals, Therapeutic Radiographers are being forced to prioritise certain cancer patients – delaying radiotherapy for all but the most urgent cases – because they lack the capacity to deliver treatment.

“Unless the workforce crisis is tackled, then waiting times for cancer patients will not come down. There is no magic wand we can wave to solve the crisis facing the NHS – and the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.  ”

The average vacancy rate for therapeutic radiography has risen to 8.4 per cent.  

In order to tackle this workforce shortage and improve staffing levels, the SoR has called for all political parties to support the Radiography Manifesto, which will ensure departments are fully staffed, workers are fairly treated, and patients receive the care they need when they need it.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has also said that the party’s plans include replacing ageing radiotherapy machines and increasing their number, as well as widening access, “so that no one has to travel too far for treatment”, as well as recruiting more cancer nurses, “so that every patient has a dedicated specialist supporting them throughout their treatment”.

(Image: Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)