One in six UK cancer centres has fewer clinical oncology consultants now than five years ago, according to an analysis published last week.
Annual workforce figures released on Tuesday 19th March by The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) reveal a staffing crisis in the profession that could, say oncology leaders, impact on the ability of the NHS to rollout cutting-edge life-saving innovations, without more investment.
The Clinical Oncology UK Workforce Census Report 2018, which is based on data from every UK cancer hospital, shows some have fewer specialists that five years ago while vacancies for clinical oncology posts are now double what they were in 2013. More than half of vacant posts have been empty for a year or more.
The report also warns that the workforce in clinical oncology is 18% understaffed compared to what it should be, and that without investment the shortfall could grow to at least 22% by 2023. It also says that the UK needs to train double the number of oncology trainees to close the gap between supply and demand for cancer doctors – and even then, the gap would not be closed until 2029.
The RCR report shows there were 922 clinical oncology consultants working in the UK’s 62 cancer centres in 2018, which equates to 863 doctors working full-time – an increase of 46 full-time consultants in practice, compared to 2017.
However, the RCR report says the UK needs at least 184 clinical oncologists. While 53 new UK-qualified consultants are set to enter the workforce in 2019, these new recruits will not be enough to fill the 70 posts left empty in 2018.
Dr Tom Roques, the RCR’s medical director of professional practice for clinical oncology and lead author of the workforce report, said: “The UK is seeing more and more fantastic innovations in cancer treatment – from the introduction of new immunotherapy drugs to the NHS’ first high energy proton beam radiotherapy centre.
“Clinical oncologists are vital to the rollout of these new therapies but we do not have enough of them and our workforce projections are increasingly bleak, which begs the question, what kind of service will we be able to provide for our patients in future?
“Today’s RCR workforce figures and forecasts show our cancer hospitals under immense strain – some centres have seen a reduction or stall in consultant numbers and many are desperate but failing to recruit, predominantly because we do not have enough consultants in training.”
Source: Royal College of Radiologists
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