‘Staff are an afterthought,’ says SoR as government announces CDC programme is ahead of schedule

Government plans to open 160 community diagnostic centres have been welcomed by the society, but concerns over the staffing crisis remain

Published: 31 October 2023 Trade Union & IR

The government’s announcement that its community diagnostic centre programme is ahead of schedule fails to recognise the depth of the radiography workforce crisis, SoR has said. 

On Tuesday, 31 October, the Department for Health and Social Care announced publicly that plans for 160 new community diagnostic centres (CDCs) will be realised a year earlier than originally planned, with all centres due to be open by March 2024. 

The Society of Radiographers, which has supported the plans to increase diagnostic capacity in communities through CDCs, has said that the announcement still fails to address the significant shortfall in NHS radiography staff. 

Long overdue investment 

Dean Rogers, executive director for industrial strategy at the society, highlighted that the NHS will need an additional 4,000 radiographers, 2,500 radiography assistant practitioners, and 2,000 radiologists to staff these new CDCs. Despite this, the government only allocated a small proportion of the £2.3 billion investment into CDCs to improve staffing levels, by recruiting 400 international staff who are still yet to be appointed. 

Responding to the government’s announcement, Mr Rogers said: “We have been supporters for the CDC programme since it was first formally proposed in the Richards’ Report in 2020. Additional focussed investment in diagnostic radiography capacity is long overdue. Likewise, removing diagnosis from hospitals and making it more accessible is the right idea, potentially relieving strain on acute centres. 

“The government promised the Richards’ report would be implemented in full. They have only partly met that commitment – capacity isn’t close to the doubling of CT and MRI scanners mentioned in the report and, critically, the government have forgotten the 4,000 additional radiographers, 2,500 radiography assistant practitioners, and 2,000 additional radiologists needed to sustain the programme.

“Staff are literally an afterthought.”

CDC plans 

In its announcement, the government said that it will meet its target of opening 160 new CDCs by March 2024, a year ahead of the initial March 2025 goal. 

The health department also confirmed three of the final locations where CDCs will be implemented - Queen Mary’s Sidcup CDC in South East London, Halifax CDC in Yorkshire, and Chichester University CDC in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. 

CDCs are facilities set up to deliver vital scanning and diagnostic services away from acute NHS sites, and can be set up in a variety of locations, from local shopping centres to football stadiums. 

These centres, which were first recommended by Professor Sir Mike Richards in his review of NHS diagnostic services in England published in 2020, can offer a variety of scanning services, including ultrasound, X-ray, MRI and CT scanning. 

The CDC programme is also being supported by the independent sector, with 13 of the diagnostic hubs being run by private providers, eight of which are already in operation. 

Currently, 127 CDCs are in operation. 

Increasing strain on workforce 

Mr Rogers said: “Prioritising investment in additional diagnostic radiography capacity is essential and this country is playing catch up. The waiting lists have arisen because of poor political decisions and decades of short term planning. For example, in the early 2000’s France decided to prioritise radiography's potential and now have double the number of CT and MRI machines that we have and more radiographers. As a consequence, they don’t have our waiting list crisis.

“Opening these centres without the additional staffing capacity is just increasing the strain on an already over-stretched and exhausted workforce. Moving people from acute settings to CDC’s just moves the problem from one part of the system to another. Buying an extra machine that could do X number of additional scans doesn’t mean it will if there are no staff to operate it or report the scans.”