Radiologists say they are “very concerned” that patients will not be cured of serious illnesses when the demand for services increases, due to a lack of imaging equipment in the UK.
The president of the Royal College of Radiologists warned that the service was “sorely underfunded”.
She stated that the cleaning requirements due to the coronavirus would reduce capacity.
The Department of Health and Welfare in England has said it is investing £ 200 million in imaging equipment.
“Radiology is one of those services that people use all the time, but don’t think about it often, it’s not sexy like surgery,” said Dr. Jeanette Dickson, President of the Royal College of Radiologists .
“The imagery affects virtually every patient who enters a hospital.
“If you look at us on a European scale, we are certainly one of the countries with the fewest scanners per head of population. “
A comparison of the OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2014 – the latest set of comparable figures – showed that there were only 9.5 scanners per million inhabitants, well below figures for Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
The BBC has learned that some trusts have only one CT scanner in use in the UK.
Dr. Dickson said normal pre-epidemic service was “woefully underfunded and underfunded” and that they “faced but barely.”
She said the entire imagery was understaffed before the Covid-19 crisis. Latest figures from the Royal College of Radiologists show that 11% of funded posts for radiologists across the UK were vacant.
In April, Cancer Research said lower screening and referrals meant that approximately 2,700 fewer people were diagnosed each week.
Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said that CT scanners to diagnose cancer “were already at the breaking point before the pandemic.”
The BBC understands that more than 30 CT scanners were obtained from the independent sector during the coronavirus crisis, with at least 35 others ordered.
“The capacity will be much, much less than the demand,” even with the equipment that has been ordered, said Dr. Dickson.
She warned that even when all the images would resume and the NHS would resume full operation, it would take “at least 30 to 45 minutes” to thoroughly clean the scanners after the Covid-19 patients and “more attention” was given to cleaning equipment between all patients. Patients should socially walk away from the waiting room.
“I am very concerned that we may find that patients undergo unnecessary treatment or needlessly harmful treatment and lose the chance of curing cancer or another serious illness, due to the lack of imagery,” said the Dr. Dickson.
Sara Hiom added, “The government must invest in the necessary equipment, employing and training more staff to enable the NHS to deal with the backlog of patients waiting for cancer care.
“Prompt diagnosis and treatment remains crucial to give patients the best chance of survival. “
The Department of Health and Welfare in England said in a statement that it was “determined to increase our capacity for early diagnosis of cancer and has provided £ 200 million for new advanced diagnostic machines to improve the quality and speed of diagnosis and replace any obsolete machines ”.
He added that cancer services would be “among the first of many NHS services to return to normal” during the coronavirus epidemic.
An NHS England spokesperson said, “Increased cleaning of CT scanners and additional infection control measures are in place throughout the pandemic to protect staff and patients.
“The NHS is making full use of the additional scanning capacity in the independent sector and purchasing additional scanners so that testing can proceed normally. “
The Welsh government has said it “is increasing diagnostic capacity in radiology, including a new National Imaging Academy, and doubling the training program in radiology.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish government has said it expects all boards of health to “continue to prioritize radiology capacity for patients referred with an urgent suspicion of cancer during and beyond the Covid-19 epidemic. “
“The majority of cancer radiology diagnoses and treatments have continued, but the treatment plans of some patients will change to minimize their individual risk,” he added.