NHS waiting lists of up to a million people could be reduced significantly if the government improves pay and working conditions for radiography professionals.
The Society of Radiographers (SoR) is balloting more than 20,000 members in England for strike action, seeking significant improvements in pay and conditions to increase recruitment and retention of radiography professionals – thus cutting waiting times for patients.
Nine out of 10 patients in the NHS are supported by a radiography professional but too few are being recruited or retained. As a result, a million patients are currently waiting to be seen by a radiographer – often delaying vital diagnosis and treatment for months.
Dean Rogers, SoR director of industrial strategy, said: “Doctors and nurses cannot do their jobs without our members – the 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.
“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. While total average weekly earnings have increased by 55 per cent since 2008, the wage increase for our members has been less than half that.
“Low pay and increased hours mean that many radiographers are 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.
“Many radiographers are moving from the NHS to agencies, where higher pay – often two or three times their NHS salary – means that they don’t need to work excessive overtime and will have better work-life balance. 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.
“But the government won’t even talk to us about the fair and reasonable steps required to do this, which is why we feel we have no other option but to ballot our members for strike action.”
The majority of postal ballot papers reached members on 7 June. All ballots must be returned by 5pm on 28 June in order to be counted.
Members took part in an indicative ballot in April and voted to reject the government’s pay offer of 5 per cent plus a non-consolidated lump sum for 2022-23. The union is therefore in a formal trade dispute with the health secretary and with the individual NHS trusts that directly employ members.
The Society says the government could reduce waiting lists, save lives and save taxpayers’ money by implementing a modern workforce recruitment and retention plan. This would 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.
Mr Rogers said: “We believe that these measures will dramatically cut waiting lists, thus improving patient care, boosting the wellbeing of radiographers and saving the NHS millions on agency and outsourcing costs. Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.”