SoR supports writing off student debt to tackle ‘dropout crisis’ 

Low starting salaries and challenging working conditions are forcing radiographers out of the profession

Published: 28 September 2023 Students

The Society of Radiographers has announced its support for calls to write off student debt for some NHS workers, to help tackle high dropout rates from key professions including radiography. 

A new report from independent health think tank the Nuffield Trust, drafted with support from SoR and published on Thursday 28 September, warned that large numbers of front line staff are failing to finish training, or leaving the NHS early in their careers. 

The report, Waste not, want not: Strategies to improve the supply of clinical staff to the NHS, drew on 190,000 student records to offer a comprehensive look at attrition rates, and evealed:

  • 87 per cent of newly trained radiographers join the hospital sector (NHS and non-NHS)
  • 17 per cent of radiographers leave the NHS or community setting within five years 
  • In the year to March 2022, compared with 2019 and 2020, the number of UK radiographers joining the NHS dropped by 9 per cent (100 radiographers).

Concerning trends

To help combat these concerning attrition rates, the Nuffield Trust called for a student loan forgiveness programme - a proposal that has been supported by the SoR. 

Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for SoR, said: “The Society welcomes the Nuffield Trust’s suggestion that the government should write off NHS employees’ student debt over 10 years.   

“NHS graduates are now unusual among public-sector workers in having a starting salary of less than £30,000. Even after graduating and working as a radiographer for several years, our members talk about not being able to afford to move out of their parents’ home.   

“This not only puts people off joining radiography courses, but is also likely to discourage people from staying in the profession once they start.”

Shortage of students

Mr Rogers added that a majority of diagnostic radiography courses in the UK had a lack of students filling places this year, while in the 2021-22 most radiography courses reported that 21 per cent of students dropped out. 

The Nuffield Trust report recommended that to help tackle attrition rates, loan forgiveness should be made available to the 28,000 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals joining eligible public services each year. 

This proposed scheme would involve gradually writing off outstanding student debt (averaging around £48,000 per nurse) by reducing it by 30 per cent after three years of service, by 70 per cent after seven years, and then writing it off completely after 10 years. 

According to the report, these measures would increase the number of applications to clinical education courses, reduce attrition rates during training, and grow participation in NHS, social care and other eligible services.

Embedding priorities

Dr Amy Robertson, SoR professional officer for education and accreditation, said: “Working on this project with the Nuffield Trust has highlighted the complex and multifaceted issues that surround the domestic training pipeline for radiography. Whilst we know that financial factors have a large impact on both the recruitment and attrition of students into the profession this report highlights the broad range of other factors which are equally important if we are to meet the future healthcare needs of the UK. 

“A 10-point plan is recommended in the report to support effective and sustainable action by the government and those involved in the learning journey, including the Society and College of Radiographers. 

“We will work to embed these into our priorities over the next year to drive equitable access to the profession and reduce attrition in therapeutic and diagnostic educational pathways.”