Radiographers fear the NHS backlog will get worse if they do not strike as cancer patients in England undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer are among those affected by a 48-hour walkout.
Members of the Society of Radiographers (SoR) working at 37 NHS trusts in England are striking over pay and conditions.
They have rejected the Government’s 5 per cent pay offer and called for talks to reopen after other public sector workers, including junior doctors, were offered more.
John Kelly, 30, a radiographer based at a hospital in Liverpool, said the impact of the walkout is going to be significant.
“Clinics are going to be cancelled; patients that were due to have appointments have had to have them rearranged,” he said.
Breast cancer screening appointments, commonly known as mammograms, have also been postponed.
Radiographers support nine out of 10 NHS patients, the SoR said. They carry out X-rays, CTs, MRIs, facilitate the imagery for orthopaedic treatment and neurological care, and provide radiotherapy to cancer patients.
Category 1 radiotherapy patients, which include those with spinal cord compressions, are covered by the derogations agreed by the union and will receive treatment on strike days but category 2 patients, which include those with breast cancer, are not, the SoR said.
Mr Kelly is acutely aware of the effect the strikes will have on patients, a million of whom are waiting for radiography services, but said if he and his colleagues did not walk out, conditions will worsen.
He said: “There are going to be more delays to some patients’ care and for that, we’re really sorry, I’m really sorry but if we don’t do something now, it’s only going to get worse.
“We need to act now before it gets to a stage where those scans that need to happen aren’t even happening at all, nevermind waiting too long to do it, because things will have been delayed so much that things could potentially get missed that end up causing a patient to come to severe harm which nobody wants. Nobody wants that to happen. Nobody wants to be on strike.”
The SoR said newly qualified staff were leaving after as little as three years in the NHS because of burnout and are calling for more funding to support recruitment and retention.
Leandre Archer, head of industrial relations at SoR, said radiographers are under immense pressure, with the vacancy rate in the profession at 13 per cent.
“Other colleagues try to make up for that, working excessive hours, not taking breaks,” Ms Archer said. “It’s really, really serious.”
Mr Kelly said: “I know multiple cases of radiographers having to, not give up their lunch, but they’ve worked right through it and suddenly it’s 6pm and they’ve never had a chance to have a lunch or even had time to use the toilet really because they feel so under pressure to make sure: number one, the patient gets seen on time, but also they finish their list at a reasonable time because everybody else is relying on them.”
The radiographer, who qualified in 2017, said: “There have been times where I’ve gone, I’m not really sure I can do this anymore.
He added: “So many people feel completely burned out by it.”
Another NHS radiographer, who wanted to remain anonymous, told i the strike is not just about pay, but the recruitment and retention of radiographers.
They said: “Our skills play a vital role in patient diagnosis and treatment. Staff shortages are detrimental to patient waiting times and promoting better working conditions is important for the future of our workforce.”
Surash Surash, a former NHS consultant neurosurgeon, said: “When I was working in the NHS, I couldn’t do my job without the hard work of the radiographers. Whether that was from diagnostic scans to the operating theatre helping me in my operation planning. They provide round-the-clock support to clinicians and without whom the NHS would be at a great loss in delivering patient care. They deserve better and I fully support their strikes.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said that the pay award was “final” and urged the union to call off the strike.
Mr Barclay 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.”