Tens of thousands of patients will be unable to have scans on Tuesday when radiographers join consultants and junior doctors in strike action, hospital bosses have said.
Radiographers across England will take industrial action from 8am, which will limit the chances of patients using cancer, A&E and maternity services getting a scan or X-ray.
The prospect of restricted access to key diagnostic tests comes as hospital consultants urge Rishi Sunak to let the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) get involved to try to bring an end to their pay dispute.
“The radiographers’ strike will hit tens of thousands of patients, compounding the impact of the consultants’ and junior doctors’ three-day walkout”, said Miriam Deakin, the director of policy at NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts.
“Nine in 10 patients see a radiographer for diagnosis and treatment using X-rays, scans and ultrasounds,” she added. “Delays to this could mean slower diagnosis and treatment across all areas of care, leading to more patients distress and possibly worse health outcomes.”
Prof Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “Action by radiographers will undoubtedly add to the disruption caused by industrial action this week.”
But, he added, the NHS is giving priority to critical care, so patients should still turn up for their X-ray or scan unless they have been told not to.
Consultants, junior doctors and radiographers will hold a rally at lunchtime on Tuesday near Manchester Central, which is hosting the Conservative party’s annual conference.
Leandre Archer, head of industrial relations for the Society of Radiographers, is expected to tell the protest that some radiographers cannot afford childcare or to move out of their family home because of poor pay and the cost of living crisis.
She will blame the NHS-wide shortage of radiographers on them having experienced a 32% fall in their real terms incomes since 2008.
Involving Acas could help break the deadlock over consultants’ pay demands, the British Medical Association told the prime minister in a letter.
Dr Vishal Sharma, the chair of the union’s consultants committee, told Sunak in it that, despite the “huge cost” of the ongoing strikes, “it has now been a staggering 190 days since consultants met with ministers regarding this dispute”.
“We are willing to involve Acas to conciliate a resolution and would encourage you to accept the offer,” he added.
Sharma said that consultants would halt their campaign of walkouts if Sunak agreed to involve Acas.
However, that looks unlikely. The government has previously ignored calls to use Acas to try to broker an end to the dispute involving junior doctors, who will on Tuesday embark on the second day of their three-day simultaneous strike with consultants in England.
Sharma has given Sunak four weeks to come up with a “credible offer” on pay for 2023-24 but made clear that consultants will strike again if that doesn’t happen.
Sunak and Steve Barclay, the health secretary, have insisted that the 6% pay rise given to consultants as this year’s pay award is final and they will not reopen discussions.
Hospital bosses have told Sunak he will fail to fulfil his promise to reduce the NHS waiting list in England unless strikes by doctors end soon.
“Unless there is a breakthrough soon, then we can unfortunately expect to wave goodbye to that pledge being met,” said Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation.
Strikes by various staff groups since last December have forced the NHS to cancel more than 1m outpatient appointments and operations, although hospital chiefs believe the real total could be as much as double that.
The cost to the NHS of the strikes has now reached £1.3bn, up from the previous estimate of £1bn, Taylor added.