Northern Ireland: SoR to ballot members on strike action over pay

Members urged to vote yes by 6 September to improve pay and help reduce waiting lists

Published: 09 August 2023 Trade Union & IR

The SoR is balloting almost 1,000 members in Northern Ireland on strike action in a bid to secure improvements to pay and conditions, increase recruitment and retention of radiography professionals – and thus cut waiting times for patients.

Nine out of 10 patients in Health and Social Care (HSC) Northern Ireland are supported by a radiography professional. But too few radiographers are being recruited or retained. As a result, more than 173,000 people are waiting for a diagnostic appointment – delaying vital diagnosis and treatment.

The Society is urging members to vote yes in favour of strike action. The majority of ballots will reach members on 9 August. All ballots must be returned by 12pm on 6 September in order to be counted.

Life and death

Cora Regan, SoR Northern Ireland national officer, said: “Doctors and nurses cannot do their jobs without a team of radiographers, sonographers and radiography assistants – and waiting lists are growing. Almost 10 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland is waiting for a diagnostic test. This wait means cases become more complex and, for some patients, even a two-week delay can mean the difference between life and death.

“Our members tell us that they regularly work over and above their contracted hours to care for patients and attempt to reduce waiting times. 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.

“At the same time, pay has been dropping further and further behind the rest of the UK. Radiographers in Scotland are now paid 12 per cent more than in Northern Ireland. And radiography professionals living near the Republic of Ireland can drive 20 minutes across the border and earn at least £5,000 more a year than they would in Northern Ireland.

Excessive overtime

“For those dedicated professionals who do stay, many are moving to agencies – and, in some cases, are doubling their hourly pay – so that they can afford a basic standard of living without excessive overtime.

“If the government wants to reduce HSC 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.

“We have written to and met the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, asking him to ringfence money for a pay increase. But he says that he cannot make a decision on a pay offer – it must be made by the Stormont assembly. If the Westminster government won’t even talk to us about the fair and reasonable steps required to recruit and retain a functioning radiography workforce, we feel we have no other option but to ballot our members for strike action.”

Restore pay levels

SoR members in Northern Ireland took part in a consultative ballot from 26 April to 16 May this year. Of those who voted, 91 per cent said that they were willing to take industrial action in the absence of any pay offer. The union is therefore in a formal trade dispute with HSC employers and the Department of Health.

The Society says the HSC could reduce waiting lists, save lives and save taxpayers’ money by implementing in full the diagnostic and therapeutic workforce reviews commissioned by the Department of Health in 2018 and published in 2022. These include 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 HSC.

The SoR is also calling for investment in undergraduate and postgraduate training, and to offer “earn as you learn” apprenticeship schemes, encouraging staff development.

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”.