Radiographers are “leaving due to burnout”, staff on picket lines have said as the Society of Radiographers (SoR) launched a 48-hour strike at 37 NHS trusts in England.
The union said worrying numbers of staff are leaving the profession and not enough is being done to recruit more workers.
Union bosses acknowledged that the strike will cause disruption but said that radiographers were taking to picket lines because they are “overworked and undervalued”.
Members of the SoR voted to reject the Government’s 5% pay award and called for talks to reopen after other public sector workers, including junior doctors, were offered more.
Speaking outside the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey, therapeutic radiographer Ashley d’Aquino, 43, told the PA news agency: “90% of patients that come into hospital have contact with a radiographer, whether that’s diagnostic or therapeutic, and we are missing 10% of our workforce.
“It’s only getting worse, people are leaving because of burnout.
“We just want (the Government) to start engaging a little bit more and working with the different unions to address these issues.”
Therapeutic radiographer Nicola Kirkpatrick said that the removal of an educational bursary for new radiographers had negatively impacted recruitment.
Also speaking outside the Royal Marsden, she told PA: “The bursary was removed about five years ago and that’s stopped people joining the profession.
“We’ve had less and less people coming through because they can’t afford to change from other jobs into our profession.
“And now we just haven’t got enough staff.”
The 48-hour strike began at 8am on Tuesday and will involve the 37 NHS trusts where members have a mandate to strike.
These include University College London Hospitals, Liverpool University Hospitals, Nottingham University Hospitals, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.
Union representatives from each trust have agreed staff will provide “life and limb” emergency cover for patients, which usually means the same staffing levels as Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
The SoR said nine out of 10 NHS hospital patients are supported by radiographers, who carry out X-rays, MRI and CT scans, ultrasounds and breast screening, as well as radiotherapy for cancer patients.
A million people are waiting for radiography services.
Leandre Archer, head of industrial relations at the SoR, told Sky News: “No radiographers want to be on the picket lines – they want to be in work delivering care for their patients. But, unfortunately, they’re overworked and undervalued and they’re making a stand because they need better pay and conditions.”
She said that the 5% pay award for radiographers was rejected because “they didn’t feel it was enough to deal with the spiralling cost-of-living crisis or, indeed, their recruitment and retention issues within the workforce”.
Ms Archer added: “Other public servants have now been awarded more than the 5% and what we’re asking the Government is to negotiate with us.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said that the pay award was “final” and urged the union to call off the strike.
He said: “I want to see an end to disruptive strikes so the NHS can focus relentlessly on cutting waiting lists and delivering for patients.
“The majority of unions on the NHS Staff Council voted to accept the Government’s fair and reasonable offer of a 5% pay rise for 2023-24, alongside two significant one-off payments totalling at least £1,655, putting more money in their pockets now.
“This pay award is final and so I urge the Society of Radiographers to call off strikes.”
Asked what pay rise radiographers would like to see, Ms Archer told Sky News: “We want something that will be tangible that we can take to our members – obviously more than 5%.
“We’ve always said we wanted an over-inflation pay rise.
“What we want to see is pay restoration. Our members have lost about 25% (of their pay allowing for inflation) since 2008, so we want to see a commitment to pay restoration. We know that won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take a number of years. But if the Government could sit down and talk to us, we’re open to compromise.”
On the impact of the strike, Ms Archer said: “It will have massive disruption unfortunately, it’s not where we want to be.
“Unfortunately, 13% of the workforce is missing, there’s a massive gap in the workforce and radiographers are taking a stand today to get the Government to do something about the massive workforce issues that they’re facing.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub