NHS expenditure on outsourced patient scans: Money that could be money better spent?

Highlighting findings from the Royal College of Radiologists, ‘Clinical Radiology UK Workforce Census 2017 Report’, a recent BMJ news article calls attention to the rising expenditure by the NHS on outsourced radiology patient scans.

With such outsourcing costs rising over 30% from 2017 to 2018, where expenditure reached a high of £116m, the author, Declan Murphy, questions whether or not this form of outsourcing is sustainable and considers how the funds could be more efficiently spent.  As Murphy notes, according to the Clinical Radiology Workforce Report, if the budget for outsourced patient scans were to be diverted to the training of in-house radiologists, the NHS would be capable of financing the additional 1004 radiologists required to meet the demand self-sufficiently.  While the funds for an internal approach to NHS radiology scans could be available within the overall budget, the current prioritization of outsourcing may, unfortunately, prevent this from occurring.

In a related BMJ commentary that explores this issue more broadly, author Margaret McCartney considers how the UK governments long-running admiration of outsourcing has raised important questions about ‘what the privatization of the NHS would look like’.  A risky proposition for an effective, accountable healthcare system, ‘devolving responsibility to companies that are immune to freedom of information requests, and frequently bailed out by the taxpayer, is not the way to do it’, says General Practitioner McCartney.  With this in mind, it perhaps leaves one asking in relation to the radiology case, why exactly is outsourcing prioritized by the NHS when an internal, sustainable approach is within reach?  Perhaps answering that rudimentary question would help to explore some of the real and perceived barriers to transitioning away from this privatized approach within the NHS – a fundamental shift which may benefit the public.



McCartney, M. 2018. No holds barred: Should the NHS rely on outsourcing? British Medical Journal360.

Murphy D.C., 2018. Solution must be found for £116m cost of outsourcing scans, says radiology president. British Medical Journal362.