Brexit – what does it mean for EU radiology?

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) sent shock waves through many sectors of the British community. For radiology, the pain is particularly acute…

The UK medical community has long welcomed an influx of foreign radiology talent because we appear to have the worst capacity shortfall of any country in Europe, with just 4.8 radiologists per 100,000 people.

Since the Brexit campaign was largely based on pledges to curb immigration, it seems likely that influx of talent will dwindle in future.

Worse still, the outcome of the European referendum has sparked alarm among the 280 or so practitioners from other EU countries that are currently providing valuable support to the NHS. Some have already voiced concern for their future in the UK.

It’s easy to appreciate their position. Moving to a foreign country is hard enough without having to worry about your destination seemingly being in the grip of a bout of xenophobia. Whichever way you look at it, Brexit looks likely to worsen the UK’s radiology capacity challenge.

There’s no going back, though. Rather than brood the outcome of the referendum, the UK radiology community need to come up with a plan of action, fast. As usual, the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has got a handle on the problem.

In its recent report, Radiology training 2016-2026: a vision and a solution, it recommends overhauling training to “build the UK radiologist workforce to a size close to that of mainland Europe: at least eight whole-time clinical radiologists per 100,000 population.”

There’s a lot to be said for this approach. New technologies mean it is now easier than ever to provide quality training to more people, more quickly.

Also, the RCR recommends developing radiology academies, which are already being offered through private-sector players such as Telemedicine Clinic. The only problem is that training will take time, and the UK needs extra capacity now.

That capacity is available in Europe; it’s also available further afield, although as the RCR observes: “Getting into the UK, especially for non-EU doctors, can be difficult, expensive and slow.”

However, if experts can’t or won’t come to work in the UK, why don’t we take the work to them instead? Right now radiologists based in Sydney, Australia, are reviewing on-call scans for NHS hospitals. Others will soon be doing the same job from the Caribbean.

For a long time, the UK radiology community argued whether or not teleradiology is a good thing. Brexit changes the nature of the argument dramatically. It’s no longer a question of whether teleradiology is good or not. In the short term, it might be the only hope we’ve got.

– George McInnes

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