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Home Publications Radiation NRPB Archive NRPB W-Series Reports ›  NRPB - W4 Radiation Exposure of the UK Population from Medical and Dental X-Ray Examinations

NRPB - W4 Radiation Exposure of the UK Population from Medical and Dental X-Ray Examinations

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D Hart and B F Wall

Publication date: March 2002

ISBN: 0-85951-468-4



Knowledge of recent trends in the radiation doses from x-ray examinations and their distribution for the UK population provides useful guidance on where best to concentrate efforts on patient dose reduction in order to optimise the protection of the population in a cost-effective manner.

In this report, the results of a recent survey of the frequency of medical and dental x-ray examinations in the UK and contemporary data on the radiation doses typically received by patients, are used to assess trends in the extent and the pattern of the population exposure. Individual patient doses, expressed in terms of the effective dose, range from a few microsieverts for simple radiographic examinations of the teeth, limbs or chest to tens of millisieverts for prolonged fluoroscopic procedures or some computed tomography (CT) examinations. A total of about 41.5 million medical and dental x-ray examinations are now conducted each year in the UK (0.70 examination per head of population) resulting in an annual per caput effective dose of 330 µSv. This is not significantly different from the previous rough estimate of 350 µSv for 1991. However, over the last ten years CT has more than doubled its contribution and is now responsible for 40% of the total dose to the population from medical x-rays. In contrast, the contribution from conventional radiographic and fluoroscopic examinations has nearly halved to about 44%. Interventional and angiographic procedures together contribute the remaining 16%.

The annual per caput dose of 330 µSv is low in comparison with other countries having similarly developed systems of healthcare. This is due to both a lower frequency of x-ray examinations per head of population and generally lower doses in the UK than in other developed countries. However, the much increased contributions of CT, angiography and interventional procedures to the UK population dose indicate an urgent need to develop radiation protection and optimisation activities for these high dose procedures to the same level as has been achieved for conventional radiology.

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Last reviewed: 30 July 2013