Labour pledges to double number of NHS scanners in England

SoR’s director of industrial strategy Dean Rogers welcomed the announcement, but raised concerns about the ongoing staffing crisis 

Published: 09 October 2023 Government & NHS

The Labour Party has pledged to double the number of scanners in NHS hospitals in England, in a bid to reduce waiting lists. 

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting toldThe Timesnewspaperon Sunday (8 October) that the party aimed to increase the number of CT and MRI scanners in hospitals, as part of a £171 million 'fit for the future fund' to improve early diagnosis and treatment. 

In response to the proposal, director of industrial strategy for the Society of Radiographers, Dean Rogers, welcomed the investment in new scanners but raised concerns about the ongoing staffing crisis impacting radiography services in the NHS. 

Mr Streeting, who has been Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care since 2021, told The Times: “Unless [the NHS] modernises and reforms it will die. 

“Not just because of the immediate crisis of the worst waiting lists in the history of the NHS, but the longer-term challenges we face in terms of our ageing society, the prevalence of chronic disease.” 

Mr Streeting added that if elected in the next general election, Labour would strive to shift NHS focus to early detection and treatment, rather than a service that “effectively does late-stage treatment.” 

He said: “If you can diagnose faster you can get people treated more quickly, which is often far less expensive and leads to better outcomes.”

Responding to Mr Streetings announcement, Mr Rogers said: “Britain has fallen dangerously behind because of poor political choices failing to match rising demand for radiography. These poor choices are the reason for the waiting list.

“So we welcome the announcement. France has twice as many CT and MRI scanners as the UK, so matching them for CT scanners is a reasonable start. As is the acknowledgement that they understand the long term challenge and need to focus here.”

But ongoing staffing shortages within radiography must also be addressed, to help combat the extensive waiting lists and tough working conditions within the NHS, Mr Rogers said. He also said that in a recent meeting with Mr Streeting, via the Trade Union Congress, he outlined the need for The Opposition to understand that radiography is the keystone to long-term health strategy. 

He added: “However, we haven’t heard anything about the increased staffing budget to work the new kit.” 

On Sunday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer announced his plans to help reduce NHS waiting lists - including a £1.1 billion investment and increasing overtime payments for doctors and nurses. 

Sir Keir said he believed that NHS staff would volunteer for overtime shifts if pay was increased, to help ease the pressures on the NHS and improve working conditions. 

On the overtime proposals, Mr Rogers said: “Keir Starmer's overtime plan seemed confused. Ending unpaid overtime at the end of shifts is fair enough but he seems locked in on doctors and nurses.

“Our members have recently taken strike action in England and Northern Ireland because there aren't enough of them and they are being worked to exhaustion already. A Labour government would need to prioritise an urgent retention strategy for radiographers.

“If Labour think they'll clear waiting lists by getting our members to work 60 hours instead of 48 they'll be disappointed and surprised.

“We now want further detailed talks with Streeting and his team to see where staff fit around this.” 

While nine out of 10 NHS patients are supported by a radiography professional, SoR’s most recent workforce census found that 94 per cent of respondents had a vacant post for a diagnostic radiographers in their department.  

Radiography salaries have also stagnated, with average weekly earnings for SoR members increasing by just 28 per cent since 2008, as NHS graduates are now unusual among public sector workers in starting on salaries under £30,000.   

Meanwhile, the government has announced plans to reduce waiting lists for diagnostic scans by building a network of more than 160 community diagnostic centres (CDCs). But these centres will require an additional 3,500 radiographers to staff, at a time when the majority of radiography degree courses in the country have unfilled spaces.

Mr Rogers added: “The CDC programme should have been an answer to our prayers, but is turning into our worst nightmare because the current government literally forgot to allocate any staffing budget to the programme. Labour can't repeat those mistakes if it gets in.

"Radiographers will not be an afterthought.”

(Image by Leon Neal/Getty Images)