Annual Delegates Conference 2024: Radiographer shortages leave thousands at risk of bone fractures

The SoR’s Annual Delegates Conference is expected to hear from attendees about under-diagnosis of osteoporosis due to the workforce crisis

Published: 16 April 2024 Health & safety

Shortages of radiographers and scanning equipment have left thousands at risk of bone fractures due to undiagnosed osteoporosis, the SoR Annual Delegates Conference will hear.

During the Annual Delegates Conference (ADC), delegates will hear from attendees about the impact of osteoporosis in the wake of workforce shortages afflicting the profession.

The motion explains that the “silent condition”, which weakens bones, often remains undetected until it causes injury.

Save money and free up beds

Proponents of the motion are seeking a screening process to prevent this, save NHS money, and free hospital beds – but such a programme requires “serious investment” in specialist scanning equipment, and radiographers to deliver patient care.

Standard measurement of bone density uses DXA imaging to detect osteoporosis, but Tuesday's (16 April) motion will argue raising awareness of DXA imaging could “shift the focus” from treatment of injury to prevention.

Its proposers will tell conference delegates: “The population is ageing, and there is a growing need to make people aware of osteoporosis, a silent condition.” 

'The cost of a fracture is high'

Richard Evans, CEO of the Society of Radiographers, said: “Often, the first time you know your bones are getting more and more brittle is when you fracture them. That’s too late.

“The cost of a fracture is high. Firstly, in terms of pain and injury to the person involved. But also the cost in terms of hospital bed time – it’s bed use that might have been avoided. But if you know earlier on that you have osteoporosis, then you can take measures, such as dietary supplements or HRT, to prevent injury.

“A proper screening programme would be ideal. But we can’t do that without sufficient numbers of radiographers to make it happen – and we won’t have that without sufficient government investment.”

The Society of Radiographers’ manifesto calls on all political parties to commit to a “genuine, comprehensive” workforce plan that secures long-term growth in capacity, and brings the UK closer to the level of diagnostic provision available in other leading economies, Mr. Evans added.

Dramatic shrinkage

The UK has one of the lowest numbers of DXA scanners per head of the population in the UK – 23rd out of 29 countries, despite the technology being “relatively inexpensive”, according to the motion.

Further, there is only one accredited provider in the UK of training in reporting DXA scans. This means that, as trained DXA radiographers retire or leave the profession, the number of radiographers qualified to conduct and report DXA scans is likely to shrink “dramatically”. 

At the end of February, more than 60,000 people were waiting for a DXA scan – one in four of them for longer than six weeks.

Current and future demand

The motion’s proposers will call on the SoR to launch a campaign highlighting the health risks associated with osteoporosis, the role that DXA can play in reducing osteoporosis-related injury, and the need to develop a skilled workforce able to meet current and future demand. 

The SoR's Annual Delegates Conference, taking place at the Queens Hotel in Leeds from 15-17 April, provides members with the unique opportunity to help shape the strategic direction of the Society, and wider profession.

Bringing together up to 300 members, including regional representatives, regional and national officers and UK Council, ADC deals with current issues within the radiography profession, or matters of personal importance to members.

Find out more about ADC here. 

UPDATE: This motion was carried at the ADC on Tuesday 16 April. ​  

(Image: AngKhan, via GettyImages)