SIPTU survey of radiation therapists reveals looming staffing crisis in cancer services

A SIPTU survey of radiation therapists has found that cancer services in both public and private hospitals are facing into significant staffing issues due to most respondents saying they intend to leave the profession within the next five years.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “The survey found that 60% of respondents did not see themselves working as a radiation therapists in five years’ time. Some cited excessive workloads, staffing issues and a lack of a career pathway as the reasons they are considering leaving the service. Some are actively applying for other roles, while others are returning to education to seek an alternative career.

“Radiation therapy is used to treat around half of cancer cases and staffing issues in the service will have a knock-on effect on treatment waiting times. The survey also found that 48% of respondents are either ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with their current workplace. Participants believe their pay does not reflect the level of competency required for the role and feel undervalued. Some said they are under pressure and ‘worried’ about the number of patients waiting for radiotherapy.

“The survey also found that 88% of respondents are dissatisfied with their level of pay for the functions they carry out and that the majority would not recommend radiation therapy as a profession.

“The findings of the survey are very troubling. SIPTU representatives have previously called on the Minister of Health, Stephen Donnelly, to put in place an emergency plan to deal with the imminent staffing crisis in radiation therapy. The findings of this survey demonstrate that there is a need to address staff concerns within the service.”

He added: “The survey was carried out with SIPTU members in both public and private practice among the approximately 300 radiation therapists actively working across the country during 2023. The majority of respondents were in the 18 to 34 age cohort. It is very worrying that most state that they do not see themselves working in the field long-term. It calls into question the sustainability of the service if a coherent plan is not put in place to recruit and retain staff.”

SIPTU members in the National Ambulance Service begin ballot for strike action

SIPTU members in the National Ambulance Service (NAS) have begun a ballot for strike action in a dispute regarding the failure of the HSE to fully implement a series of reforms which would benefit this vital public service.

The series of proposed reforms are contained in the Roles and Responsibilities Report for NAS, which was commissioned by NAS management, SIPTU and the HSE. It’s recommendations include the introduction of new grades of staff, new job descriptions and the upskilling of existing staff.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Ted Kenny, said: “This report provides for a proposed new structure for the service, which includes revised pay scales for our members. Following months of intensive, local engagement on this issue with NAS management our representatives are deeply concerned that it is yet to be implemented.

“Our members have fully co-operated with the plan drawn up by management to develop the service and they expect commitments concerning new grades and pay scales which were made to them to be met. Our members will not accept any deviation from the reality that it is management’s function to secure the necessary funding to deliver the agreed vision for the service. This includes any payments arising to staff as part of their overall restructuring plan.”

He added: “SIPTU is of the view that the business case for the implementation of this report is outside the terms of the Building Momentum Public Service Agreement. We do not accept the premise that delivery of the service level aspects of the plan are permitted yet the commitments to staff in return are deemed to be a cost increasing claim. It is the function of management to secure the necessary funding to deliver the commitments it has made.”

The ballot for strike action will conclude on Thursday 4th May 2023.

SIPTU calls for investment in healthcare workers on World Health Day

To mark World Health Day (7th April), the SIPTU Health Division has called for more investment in the working conditions of all healthcare workers to be prioritised. Union members are seeking to end the unfair system in which support workers in the public health service receive less financial supports than other healthcare colleagues when they are the victim of an assault in the workplace. SIPTU members are also seeking a replacement scheme to financially assist those are suffering with the impact of Long Covid and fair pay for workers in Section 39 agencies.

SIPTU’s Health Divisional Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: “World Health Day is an opportune time for us to reflect on the role that all healthcare workers play in the provision of health services in the State and to consider how they might be appropriately remunerated for the essential services they provide.

“SIPTU has been leading the campaign to end the unjust system in which healthcare workers who are employed as support workers do not receive the same level of financial support as their other healthcare colleagues if they are assaulted in the workplace. This policy has no place in a modern healthcare system which should respect the contribution and work of all healthcare workers equally.

“SIPTU and our colleague health unions are also still awaiting an engagement at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) regarding our claim for a replacement scheme to assist healthcare workers who are suffering with the impact of Long Covid. Healthcare workers, who stood on the frontline of the pandemic on behalf of the public, deserve assistance when dealing with the chronic impact of Long Covid.

“SIPTU is also actively campaigning for a fair resolution on the matter of pay justice for Section 39 workers. It is beyond belief that workers who are providing essential frontline services on behalf of the State are still waiting for this matter be dealt with in a fair and just manner.”

“There is no healthcare system without the workers that provide the services on which we all depend. All workers in the health service matter. Investment in the working conditions of healthcare workers is fundamental to building a decent healthcare system.”

Unions to attend WRC do discuss pay for staff in community and voluntary health and care services

The three unions representing staff working in community and voluntary sector agencies funded by the HSE – SIPTU, Fórsa, and the INMO – have confirmed the unions will attend the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Monday 17th April.

The WRC meeting will mark the commencement of conciliation talks on the long-standing problem of pay terms for staff working in HSE-funded agencies providing health and care services.

While funded by the State, employees in a range of health professional, clinical, clerical and administrative grades are on lesser terms and conditions than their HSE counterparts.

SIPTU divisional organiser Kevin Figgis said: “The health minister acknowledged in the Dáil last October that the Government is the ‘main and often sole funder’ of these organisations, and that its funding affects the ability of agencies to improve pay and conditions. That acknowledgement means these talks must happen, and that a fair and sustainable solution is achieved.”

SIPTU’s divisional organiser Karan O’Loughlin added: “These pay disparities continue to have a detrimental effect on staff recruitment and retention, and ultimately on the capacity of these organisations to deliver services. It’s therefore crucial that we enter discussions with the funding bodies in order to resolve it once and for all,” she said.

Fórsa national secretary Ashley Connolly commented: “Our members across this sector continue to deliver vital services on behalf of the State, and so we welcome the opportunity to enter conciliation talks.

“The unions continue to work together on this issue and remain determined to secure a just and sustainable solution to the pay disparities for specialist staff in this sector,” she said.

The INMO’s director of industrial relations Albert Murphy said: “We welcomed the news last week that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and the Department of Health, confirmed they would attend the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) along with the HSE, in future conciliation talks.

“It provided some badly needed progress. Unions have a shared and very clear idea of the scale of the problem. We remain determined to engage on the basis of making sure these agencies are sustainably funded and that the drift on pay and conditions is finally reversed after almost 15 years,” he said.

Until 2008, workers in these agencies received pay increases under national wage agreements. At the onset of the financial crisis they were subject to FEMPI pay cuts in line with the same cuts applied to public sector pay.

Limited pay restoration measures were eventually won by unions in 2019 but pay in these agencies remains significantly behind, and no formal mechanism for collective pay bargaining exists for workers in the sector.

Last week the unions confirmed they had served fresh pay claims on a number of employers in the sector.