Stewart Goulding, managing director of stepper motor supplier Electro Mechanical Systems (EMS), explains why modern, reliable equipment is essential to tackling the backlog.
Diagnostic test waiting lists are at record levels in the UK, with targets to reduce the backlog to pre-pandemic levels being missed. The nationwide shortage of specialists plays a key role in delays, but the impact of outdated scanning equipment is often overlooked.
Over 180,000 patients in England were waiting more than 13 weeks for diagnostic tests at the end of last year. This includes X-ray and ultrasound scans, which are used to detect tumours and bone fractures.
A key reason for increased waiting times is the lack of radiologists and radiographers, with a recent Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) study showing that 97% of cancer centres experienced delays due to staff shortages.
However, as NHS staff attempt to tackle the backlog safely and efficiently, their efforts are being hindered by outdated scanning equipment. Although medical guidelines state that diagnostic machines should be replaced every ten years, a survey found that 41 hospital trusts had at least one X-ray machine over 20 years old.
This has led over half of surveyed radiologists to believe they are not properly equipped to run their services safely and effectively.
Outdated equipment issues
The impact of outdated equipment is wide ranging. Long wait times reduce the chances of early detection, which is essential when diagnosing illnesses such as cancer, as it enables treatment to begin before it spreads further.
Additionally, upkeep of older equipment puts pressure on already stretched NHS budgets, with 27 of the 41 trusts surveyed by the RCR spending a combined £20 million on repairs to these machines during the last three years.
Although predictive maintenance is an increasingly common way of reducing unplanned equipment downtime, this often requires newer technologies such as smart sensors, which cannot always be integrated into decades-old machines.
A further issue with older scanning equipment is that it may expose patients to more radiation, as modern X-ray machines use around 96% less radiation than equipment from 50 years ago.
Modern medical imaging
Currently, 3% of the NHS budget is spent on radiology devices. However, with the creation of the NHS medical technology (medtech) strategy that supports access to innovative devices, there could be funding available for newer scanning equipment.
Investment in modern radiology machines would help trusts tackle delays, decrease repair costs and limit radiation exposure. Updated equipment also offers further benefits to the way patients are diagnosed and later treated.
Recent developments in X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology mean that scanners can use artificial intelligence (AI) to produce clearer images as well as help to detect cancer. The more swiftly and efficiently patients are diagnosed, the sooner they can begin treatment.
To enable imaging machines to accurately diagnose a wide range of medical conditions and illnesses, motors are essential. These devices give scanning equipment a full range of motion, allowing optimal positioning for capturing clear images.
Many medical imaging machines depend on stepper motors, a type of brushless DC electric motor, to manoeuvre them. The reliability of these motors is essential, allowing NHS staff to reduce the diagnostic test backlog without being limited by temperamental equipment.
EMS supplies FAULHABER Precistep stepper motors, which have a long service life that is essential for continuous operation without performance loss or unscheduled downtime.
In addition, FAULHABER stepper motors can make repeatable motions without the need for closed loop control. This means they are well suited to the meticulous positioning requirements of scanning machines. Precision made stepper motors also supports increased patient comfort, as the motors operate smoothly, reducing noise and vibration.
As the NHS strives to reduce diagnostic test waiting times, sufficient staffing levels in radiology departments will be essential. However, the need for modern imaging equipment powered by reliable motors cannot be overstated when it comes to tackling the backlog.