A GLOBAL recruitment drive launched to attract an extra 32 consultant radiologists to Scotland has "failed miserably" after filling just five posts.

One of the doctors hired was already based in Scotland, and a second was lured from England - but only on a locum contract.

Five of the nine participating health boards did not recruit a single new radiologist as a result of the initiative.

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The campaign was launched by then Health Secretary Shona Robison in February 2018 with promises of "targeted advertising across the globe", and a recruitment focus geared to Western Europe, India, Australia, the USA and Canada.

At the time, Ms Robison said it would "highlight the benefits of living in Scotland and working for our NHS", adding that the Scottish Government was "determined to recruit and retain the best and the brightest".

However, figures obtained by the Herald under freedom of information reveal that one year on only five consultant radiologists have been hired.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway had the greatest success, recruiting one permanent consultant radiologist and one on a fixed-term contract. A third is expected to begin work in the region later this year, pending approval from the General Medical Council.

NHS Lanarkshire appointed one full-time radiologist - although the doctor was already in Scotland - and NHS Forth Valley recruited an Indian-born consultant radiologist, who had previously been working in England, on a locum basis.

NHS Grampian said it has made one "offer of employment", but the post is not yet filled and it is unclear whether it will be.

NHS Tayside, Fife, Highland, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Ayrshire and Arran had no success finding candidates.

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Dr Grant Baxter, the Glasgow-based chair of the Standing Scottish Committee of The Royal College of Radiologists, said: “The international recruitment campaign was a laudable initiative but has, by anyone’s standards, been very disappointing.

"Diagnostic and interventional radiology demands continue to increase in Scotland, with at least one-in-six consultant posts empty.

"We fully support the Government’s aims of earlier cancer diagnosis, improved treatments and outcomes and the establishment of life-saving interventional radiology techniques such as stroke thrombectomy - but significantly more radiologists are required to achieve them."

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Radiologists play a crucial role in the timely and accurate diagnosis of cancer by analysing CT and MRI scans for signs of disease.

Shortages have been blamed as a factor behind spiralling referral-to-treatment waiting times for cancer patients.

In the past decade, vacancies for consultant radiologists have nearly tripled in NHS Scotland, from 16 to 44.  

Around 14 in every 100 posts was empty, around 11 of them vacant for six months or more. In NHS Fife, vacancies have gone from one to 11 in a decade.

Although a shortage of radiologists is being experienced UK-wide, leading clinicians say they have been warning the Scottish Government for at least 15 years that the crisis was looming.

They say they were left frustrated that money was not ploughed in sooner to fund extra traineeships for junior doctors wanting to specialise in radiology, especially as the number of suitable candidates has consistently outstripped the number of available places.

On average, for every four people who apply, only one gets taken on.

In 2017, the Scottish Government finally pledged £3 million to fund an extra 50 extra trainee radiologist places over five years, but it is still considered far short of the number needed.

Dr Baxter added: “The only reliable and guaranteed solution is to train more radiologists.

"Hundreds of young doctors apply and many are unsuccessful due to lack of available posts."

Ironically, the vacancy crisis does not mean there are fewer radiologists working in Scotland.

In fact, the number of consultant radiologists is at a record high of 504 - up 32% in 10 years. However, demand for radiology has grown exponentially as the population ages and cancer incidence grows.

Meanwhile, France has nearly three times as many radiologists per person than the UK, and Germany and Spain both have around twice as many.

Gregor McNie, Head of External Affairs said: “With an ageing population, more people being screened and a focus on early detection, shortages in the cancer workforce will become an ever growing problem unless this is addressed now.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said radiologist shortages are "acute" in some areas, adding: “The fact the SNP government has failed so miserably to attract sufficient numbers is deeply disappointing."

Scottish Labour shadow health secretary Monica Lennon called on Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to "get to grips with the growing staffing crisis in our hospitals”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Radiology continues to experience acute shortages worldwide, which is why we have taken action to both increase training places and improve recruitment.

"By 2022 we will have increased specialty training places in radiology by approximately 75% from 2014 levels.

“The international radiology recruitment campaign, launched in 2018, generated interest from clinicians around the globe.  Health boards are now finalising a number of offers of appointment.” 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde stressed that while they did not fill any posts through the official global recruitment drive, they had hired 10 radiologists through their own training programme and were "actively trying to recruit a further five". 

A spokeswoman said: "Eight were appointed last year and a further two were appointed in January.

"Although we did not appoint anyone through the global recruitment drive we did recruit the new radiologists as part of our successful training programme with trainees coming to Glasgow from across the world.

"To have secured ten clearly shows that, as a Board, we are viewed as an attractive and prestigious employer."