For the first time in more than 30 years, radiographers in the U.K. public sector will take part in a national strike for four hours on the morning of Monday, 20 October. Also, nonurgent imaging procedures look set to be disrupted throughout that week.
Around 19,000 of the total 28,000 members of the Society of Radiographers (SoR) who work in the National Health Service (NHS) were asked to vote on whether they supported strike action over the government's decision not to pay a recommended 1% wage rise to all NHS employees, plus an ongoing pay freeze. Of those eligible to vote, the turnout was 41%, and 53.7% of members were in favor of the strike.
"We had a very detailed discussion about the figures at our council meeting this morning," said Paul Moloney, SoR's industrial relations manager. "We feel comfortable that we have a clear mandate for the strike because the turnout was significantly higher than usual."
Under U.K. law, the ballot had to be conducted by post rather than via email or the Internet, so this contributed to the seemingly low turnout, Moloney said, who is a member of the steering committee of Unions21, which is a forum for discussion on the future of the trade union movement and the world of work.
He noted the SoR is not complacent but is confident its members feel very angry about the whole issue of pay. Other U.K. healthcare workers, including midwives and nurses, are due to take strike action over the same subject on 13 October, but the radiographers have opted for a different date because of the need for everyone to be notified, he explained.
A decision on follow-up action is likely to be made on 21 October, but unless the dispute is resolved, Moloney anticipates that all healthcare unions will choose the same day during November for a further strike.
For the week beginning 20 October, emergency care will continue to be provided by radiographers, but prebooked appointments and procedures may be affected. Radiographers working in private hospitals will not be involved, however.
"This is a dispute with the government and NHS employers. Private-sector members were not therefore balloted, and will not be taking industrial action," Paul Bromley, SoR's officer for London region, told AuntMinnieEurope.com. SoR members are also due to take part in the Trades Union Congress' march, rally, and demonstration scheduled to take place in London on 18 October.
Richard Evans, the society's CEO, concedes there is the possibility of more action by radiographers in the future.
"The anger that they and other health professionals feel is very strong," he said. "Radiographers will try and keep the effect on patients to a minimum, but radiographers and other healthcare workers have got to the stage that they feel there is no alternative."
The government insists there will be no pay increases in 2015, which means the pay freeze will have been imposed for four out of five years, according to Evans.
"Because of inflation, staff in the NHS have been taking a year-on-year pay cut. Unless we show the government that we are serious about our claim that NHS staff should be treated fairly, they will continue to take advantage of our goodwill," he continued. "There is a shortage of radiographers, which already has an effect on the timely delivery of diagnostic examinations and the treatment of cancer, which has direct negative consequences on patients. Without reasonable and proper recognition of the work that they do, it is increasingly likely that qualified professionals will leave radiography and it will become even more difficult to recruit the additional people which are needed."