Radiographers in Northern Ireland will be taking strike action again in January, the Society of Radiographers has announced, unless a solution to the current political deadlock can be found.
The SoR has confirmed the NI members will walk out on Thursday 18 January 2024, over the dispute with government around the working conditions radiographers are currently facing.
Around 10 per cent of the NI population is currently waiting for a diagnostic test, delaying crucial treatments such as radiotherapy, due to the significant shortage of radiographers and difficulty in retaining staff.
Radiographers in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK. In Scotland, radiographers are now paid 12 per cent more than in Northern Ireland.
Cora Regan, Northern Ireland national officer for the Society of Radiographers, said: “Going out on strike is a difficult decision, especially during the winter months. But if we want to avoid facing an ever-worsening crisis in HSC [Health and Social Care] hospitals every winter, then we need to do something now to improve the recruitment and retention of radiographers.
“Our members tell us that they regularly work over and above their contracted hours. Many departmental managers now automatically rota radiographers for overtime – rather than asking for overtime on a voluntary basis – as it’s the only way they can make sure there’s enough staff available to care for patients.
“We need to offer our radiography professionals considerably better pay and conditions if we want to be able to keep them in our hospitals – and avoid patient waiting lists growing even longer than they are already.”
SoR said that strike action will go ahead, unless a solution can be found. Discussions are currently underway between Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, and the main political parties, and SoR hopes these discussions will reach a constructive conclusion.
NI's radiographers previously held 48 hours of strike action in September.
Ms Regan added that any pay offer for public-service workers – including those in healthcare – must be removed from negotiations related to the return of the Northern Ireland assembly.
She said: “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has indicated that the public-service pay disputes should be resolved, and that there is money available.
“Healthcare workers should not be used as bargaining chips in a political game.”
Ms Regan said: “Even in England, where SoR members have taken strike action to demand better pay and conditions, a radiographer’s starting salary is more than £1,300 higher than it would be in Northern Ireland.
“The pressure to increase working hours, coupled with low pay, means that many radiography professionals are leaving Northern Ireland – or the profession itself – and they are not being replaced in adequate numbers.”
The union says that the HSC could reduce waiting lists, save lives and save taxpayers’ money by offering a fair starting salary for radiography professionals, as well as a move to restore pay levels for current staff over several years, from the 2023-24 pay award onwards.
It is also calling for investment in undergraduate and postgraduate training, as well as “earn as you learn” apprenticeship schemes.
Ms Regan said: “Radiographers are key to the transformation of health services in Northern Ireland. We believe that these measures will dramatically cut waiting lists, thus improving patients’ care, boosting the wellbeing of radiographers and saving the HSC millions in agency and outsourcing costs.
“Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.”