AMBITIOUS £6 million plans to expand radiology services in Gwent hospitals to meet demand, could see the equivalent of almost 140 full-time jobs created during the next five years.

Improving patients' access to a range of services such as x-rays, CT and MRI scans, ultrasound and fluoroscopy, is vital to reducing waiting times for treatments, and will be essential when the Specialist and Critical Care Centre (SCCC) is opened, probably during 2017/2018.

Dealing with the area's sickest patients, and its most complex cases, the bulk of diagnostic images there will be required within a matter of hours, and there will be increased demand in Gwent's Local General Hospitals, which will deal with routine treatments.

Aneurin Bevan Health Board sees increasing its radiology staff as the key to meeting rising demand up to and after the SCCC opens, but believes it will take five years to achieve.

Alongside improvements in technology, it estimates that it needs to create 139 whole time equivalent (WTE) new posts. There are currently 284 WTE staff in radiology in Gwent.

In the 14 years to 2009/10, there was a 40 per cent increase in radiological examinations, from 296,000 a year to 419,000, and the trend remains upward.

In five years the aim is to have radiology services available in Gwent's main hospitals seven days a week, from 8am-10pm.

"By 2018 it is envisaged that a comprehensive series of radiological examinations will be undertaken at the SCCC and three Local General Hospitals," says a health board report.

Central to this is the need for radiological services to respond to the creation of more one-stop clinics where patients have a consultation and one or more tests at the same appointment.

"We need a radiology service that is the 'best in class' and able to meet the demands placed upon it, ahead of the SCCC opening," said Judith Paget, health board deputy chief executive and chief operating officer.

Radiology directorate manager Marilyn Williams said the health board needs to recruit graduates into radiology training, to "grow our own", as there are concerns about the age profile of the existing workforce.

"Training work needs to start next year and if it is delayed, the next five years are going to be particularly difficult," she said.