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Lives at risk during UK hot weather due to radiographic staff shortage, warns SoR

13th June 2023

A chronic shortage of NHS radiographic professionals, coupled with anticipated surges in demand for heart and kidney scans due to the hot weather, will put patients’ lives at risk this week, the Society of Radiographers (SoR) has warned as it urges members in England to vote for strike action.

Already overstretched radiography teams will be putting in excessive hours to meet a rise in A&E visits caused by the current spell of hot weather, and patients arriving into A&E during this time will have to wait significantly longer for vital scans and diagnosis before their treatment can progress, says the SoR.

Hot weather typically means more cases of heatstroke, heart failure and kidney problems, as well as cuts, sprains, fractures and respiratory problems, which similarly need the attention of radiographic professionals, the Society adds.

Dean Rogers, executive director of industrial strategy and members relations at SoR, said: ‘Doctors and nurses cannot do their jobs without radiographic professionals.  

‘Our members are dangerously overstretched. Even when the NHS is not facing increased demands because of the hot weather, nine out of 10 patients will need to see a radiographer, and waiting lists are growing.’

On 19 July 2022 – the hottest UK day on record – there were 638 excess deaths, and 496 excess deaths the following day, according to the Office for National Statistics. The July 2018 heatwave led to a record 2.2 million patients visiting A&E departments in a single month – the highest number since records began in 2010.

Ballot for radiographic staff strike action

Vacancy rates for diagnostic radiographers have risen from 12% to 13% in the last year, and the SoR states that pressure on the radiographic workforce is growing due to widespread training and retention issues.

The SoR is urging its members to vote yes in favour of strike action. Launched on 7 June 2023, its ballot will close at 5pm on 28 June. This follows an indicative ballot in April 2023, in which members voted to reject the Government’s 5% pay offer and non-consolidated lump sum for 2022/23.

Mr Rogers added: ‘We know low pay and poor conditions are forcing radiographers out of the workforce, and they are not being replaced in adequate numbers. Vacancies are running at a minimum of 10 per cent and that’s even with radiographers working considerably more than their contracted hours to ensure that their patients receive the best-possible care.

‘That’s why we’re currently balloting our 20,000 members in England for better pay and working conditions. Every day, the crisis deepens, and this week’s weather will only increase the intolerable pressure on an already overstretched NHS. Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.’

Risks to patient safety due to staff shortages have also recently been highlighted by oncology professional organisations in an open letter to the health secretary.