Radiography professionals across England are preparing to take strike action, following a ballot of members of the Society of Radiographers.
Members in trusts including the Royal Marsden, University College London Hospitals, Liverpool University Hospitals and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have a mandate to go out on strike if the government is not prepared to discuss urgent improvements to pay and conditions for radiography professionals.
The government’s workforce plan, which was announced today, is a plan for the future, which will not tackle the immediate shortage of radiography professionals – who are responsible for carrying out x-rays, MRI and CT scans, ultrasounds and breast screening, as well as radiotherapy for cancer patients.
Nine out of 10 patients in the NHS are supported by a radiography professional. But too few are being recruited or retained right now. As a result, a million patients are currently waiting to be seen by a radiographer – often delaying vital diagnosis and treatment for months.
Doctors and nurses cannot do their jobs without our members – the diagnostic radiographers, sonographers, mammographers, therapeutic radiographers and radiology support workforce. Waiting lists are growing and, for a cancer patient awaiting diagnosis and radiotherapy treatment, even a two-week wait can mean the difference between life and death.
Dean Rogers, director of industrial strategy for the Society of Radiographers, said: “Voting for strike action is never an easy decision. This is especially true for radiography professionals, who work long hours for pay that has been falling behind average wages for years, in order to provide their patients with the best possible care.
“But the result of our ballot, with more than 150 NHS trusts showing a majority in favour of action, proves that our members believe that the government's pay offer of 5 per cent is derisory. The radiography professionals on the frontline know that low wages undermine efforts to create a stable NHS workforce with sufficient staffing levels to ensure that all patients receive the best treatment possible.
“Currently, radiographers work considerably more than their contracted hours. But while they work longer hours, they have faced real-terms cuts to their pay since 2008. Total average weekly earnings have increased by 55 per cent since 2008, but the wage increase for our members has been less than half that.
“Many radiography professionals are feeling burnt out by low pay and increased hours. They’re leaving the NHS, and they are not being replaced in adequate numbers. Vacancies are running at a minimum of 10 per cent – indeed, since 2020, the number of mammographers has increased by just one.
“If the government wants to reduce NHS waiting lists and ensure that patients receive the treatment they need, when they need it, then it must urgently prioritise the recruitment and retention of radiography professionals.”
Because of the statutory thresholds imposed on essential workers’ industrial-action ballots, there are 43 NHS trusts where members have a mandate to strike. These trusts also include Nottingham University Hospitals, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston, and East Suffolk and North Essex, which is in health minister Will Quince’s constituency.
The Society of Radiographers is consulting with its members about the next steps, including where and when members will take strike action. It is likely that the first strike will take place next month.
Speaking about today’s workforce plan for the NHS, Mr Rogers said: “We welcome a long-term plan, but a long-term plan has to start with what we do now.
“The government has given us a list of things they’d like to do, with no costings or explanations about how it’s going to deliver them. That isn’t a plan – that's just a list.
"As it stands, the plan won’t solve the problems that we have right now: there are not enough radiographers, and patients are at risk. We want a meeting with ministers, so they can explain how the workforce plan would make a difference right now. Cancer patients can’t wait five years.”
The Society of Radiographers says that the government could avert strikes, reduce waiting lists, save lives and save taxpayers’ money if the workforce plan included 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. This would help to reduce pressure on members to take on excessive overtime hours and keep radiography professionals within the NHS.
Mr Rogers said: “Strike action is a last resort. But our members have demonstrated that they believe they have no alternative, because the government won’t take the action needed to address their concerns. Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.”