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Cancer doctor shortage ‘will impact patients’, says Royal College

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

20 March 2019

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A shortage of cancer doctors in the NHS is likely to impact patients, according to a new report.

The study, from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), points to a growing shortage of staff, with 1 in 6 UK cancer centres now operating with fewer cancer doctors, called clinical oncologists, than 5 years ago.

And this gap between supply and demand is expected to widen, concludes the report. 

The RCR estimates that by 2023, the NHS will need a minimum of 1,214 full-time cancer doctors. Based on current trends, there will only be 942.

Cancer Research UK’s Emma Greenwood said: “NHS staff are working incredibly hard to give patients the best possible treatment, but these figures reinforce that NHS cancer services are drastically understaffed.” 

The study shows the UK is now short of at least 184 cancer doctors, and that the number of vacant posts is double what it was in 2013. More than half of vacant posts have been unfilled for a year or more.

Cancer doctor increase not keeping up with demand

Despite these figures, there where 46 more full-time cancer doctors employed in 2018 than the previous year. But the RCR said the increase is not keeping up with demand, with the number of trainees needing to at least double to close the gap.

“With cancer cases increasing and bold ambitions to improve cancer survival in the NHS Long Term Plan, we urgently need a workforce strategy supported by enough funding to resolve these severe staff shortages,” said Greenwood.

The report also says that without more investment in workforce, patients will not be able to benefit from cutting-edge cancer treatment, such as immunotherapy and proton beam therapy.

Dr Tom Roques, the lead author of the report, said: “The UK is seeing more and more fantastic innovations in cancer treatment.” He added that cancer doctors “are vital to the rollout of these new therapies but we do not have enough of them and our workforce projections are increasingly bleak.”

Overseas recruitment to plug staffing gaps was also reported to be unsuccessful due to several factors, including differences in how doctors are trained and a lack of HR expertise in the area.

The Royal College of Radiologists (2019) Clinical oncology: UK workforce census report 2018