Lack of cancer doctors ‘puts care at risk’

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A shortage of cancer doctors will reduce the ability of the NHS to provide cutting-edge care, experts are warning.

A Royal College of Radiologists census of 62 major UK cancer centres discovered that over 7.5% of consultant posts were available. It found that their services were mainly being upheld through the use of huge amounts of overtime, which was subsequently putting treatments at risk.

The NHS have announced plans to increase the number of doctors, with the number of doctor training places increasing and the amount of investment in the NHS rising. Despite this, and as a result of many doctors retiring, this plan is not enough to cover the increasing demand for care.

A spokesman from The Royal College of Radiologists said: “The UK is seeing more and more fantastic innovations in cancer treatment from the introduction of new immunotherapy drugs to high energy proton beam radiotherapy. These 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”

The college investigated the number of consultant clinical oncologists (the senior cancer doctors that specialise in non-surgical treatments such as chemotherapy) these cancer centres had. The results found that together, these centres have the equivalent of 863 full-time doctors currently working for them.

The census also concluded that between the centres, they had a further 70 job vacancies – most of which had been vacant for over a year.

When asking the centres about the amount of overtime being carried out, the college found that on average, the full-time doctors in these centres were working just over six hours overtime a week. When overtime is taken into account, the NHS is 184 clinical oncologists short, a number that would likely worsen over the next few years.

Despite staff shortages, the number of clinical oncologists working for the NHS is increasing by around 5% a year. Unfortunately, the demand for these doctors is increasing at a faster rate.

In England, the government has promised to give the NHS increased funding of £20bn a year by 2023, with cancer being a top priority for spending. Other parts of the UK will also be receiving additional funding.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care in England said: “Improving cancer care and reducing waits is a priority for the NHS and we recently unveiled a series of commitments as part of the NHS Long Term Plan backed by £200m to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.”

Julie Crossley a Medical Negligence Lawyer at Ashtons legal comments: “Staff shortages has been an increasing issue in the NHS in recent years, and it is concerning that the NHS continues to struggle to fill posts in all areas, but more so in Oncology, where speed of diagnosis and treatment is imperative to ensure that the disease is prevented from accelerating where possible. This can and will continue to lead to litigation where families and individuals consider that their treatment or diagnosis was avoidably delayed.”

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