The Society of Radiographers has responded to Labour’s plans to ‘get the NHS back on its feet,’ announced during the shadow health secretary’s speech at the Labour Conference.
On Wednesday, 10 October, Shadow Secretary of State for Health Wes Streetingannounced the Labour Party’s plans to reduce the NHS backlog, as he addressed delegates at the party conference in Liverpool.
In his speech, Mr Streeting confirmed plans to invest £1.1 billion into the health service, provide two million more appointments each year through evening and weekend clinics, and double the number of NHS scannersto help diagnose and treat patients earlier.
Mr Streeting added that the additional funding would be paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status, which allows individuals to live in the UK while paying tax in a permanent place of residence outside of the country.
Labour also intends to pay NHS staff to work overtime to help tackle the backlogs, a proposal that has been met with scepticism by SoR, owing to the long working hours already faced by radiographers.
In response to the speech, SoR’s director of industrial strategy, Dean Rogers, said he welcomes the additional investment, but reiterated his concerns about the workforce crisis in radiography and the wider NHS.
Mr Rogers said:
The Society of Radiographers welcomes Labour’s commitment to tackle NHS waiting lists as a priority. And we also are pleased to hear Labour’s pledge to double the number of NHS scanners – this is much-needed investment.
However, investing in technology does not compensate for a lack of investment in the NHS workforce.
As Mr Streeting said, 1.6 million patients are currently waiting for NHS scans and tests. Of these, one million are waiting to be seen by a radiographer – often delaying vital diagnosis and treatment for months. Nine out of 10 NHS patients are supported by a radiography professional. And there are currently too few radiographers in the workforce to carry out X-rays, MRI and CT scans, and to plan and deliver radiotherapy to cancer patients – no matter how many new machines there are.
In our most recent workforce census, published in 2022, 94 per cent of respondents said that there were vacant posts for diagnostic radiographers in their departments. Nationally, the average UK vacancy rate for radiographers is 12.7 per cent.
Any investment in new equipment must go hand in hand with measures to recruit and retain more radiographers. Our members talk about brand new MRI scanners standing unused for all but a few hours a week, because they did not come with a matching budget for radiography professionals to deliver patient care.
Mr Streeting also pledged an extra £1.1 billion for extra clinics at evenings and weekends – meaning extra overtime for NHS staff.
However, most of our members already work on 24/7 rosters, which include regular overtime and weekend work. It is not uncommon for radiographers to be working a 48-hour week, in order to deliver their patients the best possible care in the face of chronic staffing shortages.
Asking radiographers to work longer hours would contravene Working Time Regulations, and would put our members and their patients in danger. This is not the way to reduce waiting lists.
High-tech equipment and longer working hours will not deliver the reduction in waiting lists that our patients so desperately need and we so eagerly want. For that, politicians from all parties need to invest in recruiting and retaining a strong radiography workforce.
Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.