Hundreds of thousands of patients in England are waiting more than a month for radiology test results, a royal college has warned.
A report into NHS services in England by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) found three-quarters of hospitals have a backlog for radiology, which includes CT and MRI scans.
Some 126 out of 155 NHS trusts responded to enquiries from the RCR about the state of radiology services.
The report found that on one particular day in February 2016, 230,000 patients had been waiting more than a month for test results. These included at least 12,000 who were waiting for the result of CT or MRI scans, which are often used to diagnose or monitor cancer.
Sara Bainbridge, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said the report adds to the evidence that the NHS can’t cope with growing demand.
“Diagnostic services – including those that provide tests for people who might have cancer – are struggling,” she said.
“This is unacceptable, and the health service must ensure patients get the tests, and results, they need as soon as possible.”
The RCR said patients were left feeling anxious while they waited for results, on top of the health effects of delaying a diagnosis of cancer or other conditions.
It argued that NHS money was being “wasted” on outsourcing work to the private sector which it said should be spent on growing the NHS workforce.
The survey found NHS trusts are spending increasing amounts on “costly and inefficient outsourcing”.
Spending on extra help for radiology rose from £47 million to £73.8 million between 2014 and 2015. The RCR said this would pay for around 900 extra NHS radiologists.
Dr Giles Maskell, president of the RCR, said: “Early diagnosis of serious medical conditions such as cancer is vital so that patients have the best chance of cure. Any delay caused by the shortage of radiologists can lead to worse outcomes for patients.
“The impact of these delays is felt not only in the potential for delayed diagnoses but also in the anxiety felt by patients, their families and friends.”
A 2014 census from the RCR found 88% of radiology departments in the UK were unable to fulfil their requirements for producing reports on scans, citing the shortage of radiologists as the culprit.
Bainbridge added that the recent Cancer Strategy for England highlighted where the health service needed to improve, including the need for more staff to carry out tests for suspected cancer.
“The NHS must take action now, including a plan to fill the staffing gap,” she added.
“As we’ve seen from continued poor performance in cancer waiting times, patients are being failed as these delays continue.”