FOR an administration opposed to health service privatisation, the Scottish Government is presiding over a situation in which health boards are paying plenty of money to private companies for work that should be done in the NHS.

In this instance, we’re not talking about agency staff or pharmaceuticals, but radiology services. This is not how the Scottish Government wants boards to spend its – our – money but, because of a recruitment shortage, they find themselves forced to do so.

The problem in radiology – let’s be clear right away – is not unique to Scotland. In 2016, Northern Ireland had the highest rate of vacant posts, followed by Wales, the North East of England, then Scotland, where the rate was two per cent higher than in the UK as a whole.

Indeed, the UK seems to have a particular problem employing radiologists, with the third lowest number per population of 31 audited European Union countries. The money spent by NHS Scotland on outsourcing work as far as Indian and Australia is also small compared to the UK total.

But, while £3.8 million isn’t huge in terms of public sector expenditure, it’s still money that could be better spent. Besides which, the health implications of a radiologist shortage outweigh financial considerations. Backlogs of work lead to delayed scan results, late diagnoses and a reduction in the chance of early interventions that might save lives.

So, what to do? Well, the Scottish Government says it’s already on the case and, given that it has held a global advertising campaign and is spending an additional £3m on more radiology trainees over the next five years, that’s a fair claim to make.

But what if it isn’t enough? What if it doesn’t work? Already, it’s estimated that one-fifth of the current workforce will retire over the next five years. In the last five years, the workload has increased by 55 per cent. The population is ageing and the number of cancer diagnostic scans is rising massively.

The poor performance of the UK as a whole in this area is intriguing, and we wonder if there might be merit in examining the recruitment and career path strategies of other countries.

In addition, new ways of working, perhaps involving the training and remit of radiographers, might be explored. Technological advances also sound promising but remain some way off.

In the meantime, we’re sure the Scottish Government would share our own anxiety that NHS boards outsourcing work to commercial companies never becomes a predisposition or habit.

The current administration is taking steps, but we have to hope that it’s not running to stand still. In health care, the real need at all times is to stay ahead of the game.