Radiology insight: a combination of quantity and quality

Being a medical professional in the UK is a bit like being a Manchester United player: your team is in the news every day. Unfortunately, though, with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) we always seem to be on the losing side. Every story seems to be about a failure in our game.

This January alone, for example, we have heard more than 7,000 nurses could face the axe under secret NHS plans, the service no longer has the resources to care for our sick population and it will need £88 billion extra by 2067.

Most of this is about numbers: the NHS Confederation says expenditure has increased over the last decade, yet investment has failed to keep pace with the UK’s growing need for healthcare. This has led to a deficit of more than £2.45 billion in English hospitals alone.

Clearly, the NHS needs more money, for more staff and more resources. However, money alone won’t solve the problem. Healthcare isn’t just a numbers game. Quality counts, too. That’s a problem for the NHS, because quality comes at a price.

If the service is already struggling to recruit the number of people it needs, how is it going to make sure it gets the very best at the same time? The answer, when it comes to radiology, clearly is to get more inventive with the resources we have to hand.

According to TMC’s George McInnes, some of the measures that need to be considered in our profession, at least in the UK, include:

  • Understanding the role private firms should play. There are rightly concerns about privatising parts of the NHS, but some teleradiology players can offer a valuable service in plugging the capacity gap. Furthermore, the quality I saw at TMC’s on-call service last year was impressive.
  • Giving due consideration to radiologists’ work-life balance. Sure, everyone is under stress, but being overly stretched can lead to poor professional judgement. Furthermore, if you are under too much pressure at work then the chances are you’ll end up moving elsewhere.
  • Making it easier for professionals to gain training. Continuous learning is a cornerstone of quality in our profession, so it makes sense to give people as wide a range of training opportunities as possible, from residential courses to interactive webinars.
  • Encouraging more people to join and stay in the profession. Semi-retired radiologists, for example, have a wealth of skills… so why are we not making it easier for them to work part-time from home or otherwise continue contributing to the talent pool?

Whose responsibility is it to take these steps? It’s easy to point the finger at government, but that has hardly been a useful solution in the past and now, thanks to Brexit, it’s even less likely the plight of the UK radiology profession will be given much airtime by our leaders.

Instead, we need to take some responsibility for our own future, and begin thinking imaginatively about how we can achieve some of the goals I mentioned above. It’s not easy, but solving the quantity and quality issues in radiology won’t happen at all unless we try.

– George McInnes



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