Prepare to speak up: say NO to excessive working hours

SoR backs radiographers on 'critical situation' of staffing levels in the NHS

Published: 05 October 2021 Trade Union & IR

The SoR has written to all members about the critical situation of staffing levels in the NHS, advising radiographers to refuse to work excessive hours.

The last time the Society took such action was over the matter of PPE at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Officers now believe that the stress being caused by staff shortages and increased workload is rapidly becoming an equally serious safety issue.

SoR chief executive Richard Evans said: ‘Trying to go on carrying a service at the detriment to your own wellbeing is not sustainable; neither is it in the interests of patients. Staff working excessive hours to cover for absent colleagues and historic understaffing is fuelling high sickness and burnout, and increasing and prolonging the problem.

‘SoR officers have received increasing reports from members and representatives, who have  been telling us about departments that are overwhelmed as a result of staff shortages.

‘There is no easy answer to historic staffing shortages but there is a duty on all NHS employers to acknowledge the problem and to take action to stop it getting any worse.

‘We want all members to know that you can say no to excessive hours and that the SoR will stand with you.’

Members are referred to the employer’s duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (see below).

The Society has also written specifically to radiography managers, offering help to negotiate with employers and avoid the risk that the service could ‘collapse completely’.

Richard Evans said: ‘Unfortunately, for many years now, imaging and radiotherapy services have relied on the good will of radiographers to work paid and unpaid overtime and to fill in for colleagues who are absent or who have resigned. This chronic situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the backlog of work which has ensued. 

'We are now in an acute phase which, if not addressed, will tip over into collapse of services as radiographers reach burnout and either take prolonged sick absence or leave the profession altogether.'

Exercise your right to protect yourself

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 establishes the duty of care, both of managers to look after their staff and of staff to protect themselves and others. Remember:

  • No NHS employee has to work more than their contracted 37.5 hours per week. There is no obligatory overtime for radiographers. Staff should not be coerced into working beyond what they want and think is reasonable. Members that choose to undertake some overtime should not be pressured to take on additional duties if they do not wish to do them.
  • Where there is an agreed out-of-hours (on-call) rota, it must be based on full and safe staffing quota. It is not reasonable to expect those available automatically to pick up all sessions left uncovered as a result of holidays, absence, resignations and vacancies. 
  • Staff should not be expected to work in conditions that are unsafe, either for themselves or patients. All departments must be run safely, based on local standard operational procedures and risk assessments. Employers are responsible for the health and safety of staff and patients but, equally, staff have a responsibility to refuse to participate in unsafe working practices. This is part of your professional responsibilities.
  • Collectively we can be proactive. As well as highlighting examples of unsafe working practices, your representatives can argue for the appropriate breaks and challenge any shortcuts that impact on staff and patient safety, increasing stress. For example, reintroducing short breaks in the morning and afternoon is proven to improve morale.
  • The ongoing Covid crisis is not an excuse to abandon the terms of the Working Time Regulations – in fact, it is more important than ever that staff get their correct rest periods so that they can weather the storm.
  • It is all radiographers’ responsibility to be ‘fit to practice’. It is your professional responsibility to look after your own health as well as that of patients.