13 Dec 2018, 9:31 a.m.

It has been agreed that the provision of X-ray services in Gloucestershire will be revised on an interim basis to ensure that the most specialist services can continue to be provided safely. The temporary changes are a response to the high levels of radiographer vacancies being experienced in Gloucestershire.

View the full report that went to Gloucestershire County Council’s Health & Care Overview & Scrutiny Committee

The change will ensure that life-saving interventional radiology services can be safely provided around the clock seven days a week at Cheltenham General (CGH) and Gloucestershire Royal Hospitals (GRH) thereby avoiding the need for patients to travel to regional centres or be subjected to more invasive surgical treatment.

The steps have been taken in response to a national shortage of radiographers and radiologists and, given these challenges, NHS organisations in the county have been working to put in place an interim change that strikes the right balance between retaining local access as far as possible and ensuring the best possible service for patients under present circumstances.

As part of the plans, which were shared with the Health Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee, community hospitals will continue to have access to X-ray services but on a reduced number of days.

On average between two and three patients per day access the affected services at the Vale, Tewkesbury Community Hospitals and North Cotswolds Hospital during the hours affected patients will be advised to access X-ray services at their nearest community hospital, where car parking is free and waiting times are relatively short. Importantly, every community hospital will retain access every week and measures to improve the number of patients seen will ensure that overall waiting times do not increase.

It is important to stress that overall opening hours at the Community Hospital Minor Injury and Illness Units remain unchanged.

Kate Hellier, Chief of Service and Consultant Physician, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS FT, said: “While there will be a reduction in the hours of X-ray services in four community hospitals, this must be seen in the wider context of the clinical need to provide round the clock access to interventional radiologists who can perform life and limb saving procedures at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General.

“While we recognise that for some people will result in inconvenience and may cause anxiety, the priority for us has to be in ensuring that we can provide safe and sustainable services throughout the county.”

Despite a proactive and vigorous approach to recruitment, bringing in suitably qualified staff has continued to prove challenging. The service currently employs 109 staff and has a 24% vacancy rate.

“The budget is there to enable us to recruit to our full level, the challenge has been attracting the appropriately skilled clinicians to join us. There just aren’t enough trained staff out there,” Dr Hellier added.

Candace Plouffe, Chief Operating Officer at Gloucestershire Care Services, said: “We understand that it is a challenge to recruit qualified radiographers, and therefore the need to revise the provision of X-ray services in community hospitals at the present time.

“There is more work to be done to ensure the X-ray service model matches the demands of the people of Gloucestershire, and we will work with our NHS partners and commissioners on a longer-term solution.”

The revised service will be closely monitored to ensure effective implementation and to help inform future decision making. A progress update will be brought back to HCOSC in the near future.