Parties must prioritise NHS workforce funding ahead of general action, says SoR

NHS workforce planning should top all parties’ list of priorities in order to cut waiting lists ahead of the announced general election

Published: 23 May 2024 Government & NHS

The Society of Radiographers is calling on all political parties to meet rising NHS demand with effective planning and significant investment ahead of the general election.

To stop waiting lists from growing even longer, effective workforce planning and funding should be the priority for all political parties, it emphasised.

The SoR’s calls come following Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement a general election will take place on 4 July.

'Cut through all the political spin'

With nine out of 10 NHS patients supported by a radiographer, the profession is central to addressing waiting lists, it added. Around one in five patients is now waiting at least six weeks to be seen by a member of the radiography workforce.

Long waits make pathologies more complex and can mean the difference between life and death for some.

Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for the Society of Radiographers, said: “In the run-up to the general election, we need to cut through all the political spin and get to the heart of what really matters.  

“While investment in AI or new community diagnostic centres (CDCs) may grab headlines, waiting lists will not come down without a realistic workforce plan and proper funding. 

“In the coming weeks, we'll hear plenty of candidates talk about doctors and nurses – and rightly so, of course. But until they start talking about radiographers, too, the NHS will not recover from its current crisis.”

Rising waiting lists and shortages

There is “no slack whatsoever”, SoR members have explained, and departments face acute shortages, with average vacancy rates reaching 13.4 per cent. Eight in 10 (82 per cent) members can only fill departmental rosters with regular overtime shifts.

Poor pay scales and excessive work hours are leaving radiographers “exhausted and demoralised”, Mr Rogers added, and while investment in technology is “very welcome,” it is not enough alone to impact waiting lists.

“Tech needs people,” Mr Rogers said. “While AI can speed up the process of reporting imaging results, there can be no imaging without an appropriately educated and trained radiography workforce – in fact, regulations require it.

“Meanwhile, Diagnostic Radiographers tell us that new MRI and CT scanners are standing idle in their departments, because they did not come with a budget for radiographers.”

The government’s CDCs seek to speed up the diagnostic process and cut waiting lists. However, without additional money for staffing, CDCs have had to draw on existing staffing pools, often leaving hospital acute departments “chronically understaffed” as a result. 

'Situation is only likely to worsen'

The situation in UK hospitals is only likely to worsen, he continued. Many radiographers – particularly in shortage areas, such as mammography and sonography – are reaching retirement age, and there are not enough new radiographers to replace them. 

Mr Rogers said: “With demand growing and the workforce shrinking, NHS waiting times are only going to grow longer and longer.”

The Society of Radiographers’ manifesto calls on all political parties to commit to a genuine, comprehensive workforce plan that secures long-term growth in capacity, and brings the UK closer to the level of diagnostic provision available in other leading economies. 

It seeks:

  • Pay restoration to 2008 levels 
  • Workforce planning now and for the future 
  • Effective training and development routes for all 
  • Safe working practices and staffing 
  • A consensus on funding 

'Parties need to think realistically'

Mr Rogers said: “The NHS is in crisis. There’s no magic wand to wave and no quick fix here. We need our politicians to recognise that there are systemic problems in the NHS, which it will take time and effort to address.  

“It’s not just about money – though, obviously, investment does matter. It’s about making sure that money is spent thoughtfully and well. And for that, we need a government that’s open to working in partnership with healthcare professionals and being challenged where necessary. 

“As the general election approaches, politicians of all parties need to think realistically about how to ensure that our hospitals emerge from crisis and become once again places where NHS workers are fairly treated and patients receive the care they need, when they need it. 

“Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.”  

(Image: Rishi Sunak announcing the general election, by Peter Nicholls via Getty Images)