This report sets out what we found in our review of NHS radiology services in England. It calls for action to address reporting delays and keep people safe from harm.
Radiology services are under pressure as the demand on health services increases year on year. Radiology has an essential role in diagnosis and monitoring, and its use has grown over 16% in five years.
In 2016 and 2017, our inspections uncovered concerns over radiology reporting in three NHS trusts. This prompted us to take a more in-depth look to find out if the same issues exist in other trusts in England.
What we did
To explore the extent of the problem we:
- asked all NHS acute and community trusts to send us information about their reporting between August 2017 and October 2017
- chose 30 trusts and looked in detail at their number of unreported images.
What we found
- The timescales for reporting on radiology examinations, and arrangements for monitoring and managing backlogs, vary widely between trusts.
- There are few national standards that trusts can benchmark themselves against. This means they are not always clear what good looks like.
- Even trusts that were monitoring their performance did not always report on time.
- We found issues with staffing, including an average vacancy rate of 14% across trusts that responded. This supports existing evidence about the national difficulties in recruiting and retaining radiologists.
These issues call for local and national action, and public bodies will have to work together to address them.
- NHS trust boards should make sure:
- they have effective oversight of radiology backlogs
- they assess and manage risks to patients
- they make good use of staffing and other resources to ensure timely reporting.
- The National Imaging Optimisation Delivery Board should set out national standards for report turnaround times.
- The Royal College of Radiologists and the Society and College of Radiographers should develop clear frameworks to help trusts manage turnaround times safely.