Recruitment crisis in cancer services staff resulting in lifesaving machines lying idle

SIPTU representatives have highlighted that a lack of recruitment by the HSE of radiation therapists has resulted in lifesaving machines for treating cancer patients being left idle in hospitals in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

Speaking at the ‘Next Steps for Cancer Services in Ireland Seminar’ on Thursday (7th March) SIPTU National Radiation Therapist Executive member, Olivia Brereton, said that “the staffing crisis is having a devastating impact on our services”.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Mr John McCamley, said: “At least six machines are lying unused in services across the country including St. Luke’s Oncology Network in Dublin, Cork University Hospital, and Galway University Hospital. This is down to a lack of radiation therapists on staff to operate the machines.

“Every time a machine lies idle, it means someone’s access to cancer treatment is delayed. Under the National Cancer Strategy, the timeframe from cancer diagnosis to commencing treatment should be three weeks. Ireland is not currently meeting that target.”

He added: “As a union, SIPTU has highlighted the need to address the staffing crisis through the progression of the radiation therapy review, and a comprehensive strategy for retaining experienced staff. We also want to see an expansion of undergraduate and postgraduate places to increase recruitment of radiation therapists and support for students during clinical placement”.

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment. This treatment uses beams of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Modern methods of radiation delivery require high accuracy. Radiation beams are directed at the tumours while healthy tissue is protected from high doses of radiation.

Workers’ voice must be part of mental health services discussion, SIPTU says

SIPTU, the union representing a broad range of mental health workers, has criticised the Department of Health and the Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler TD, for excluding workers from discussions on the delivery of services.

The criticism comes as the Government outlines its plans for mental health services at a conference entitled ‘Sharing the Vision: Our National Mental Health Policy’ in Dublin Castle today (Tuesday, January 16th).

John McCamley, SIPTU Sector Organiser, said: “It is astonishing that the voice of workers is not part of the discussion on the delivery of mental health services and the implementation of the ‘Sharing the Vision’ policy.

“Our members are at the coalface when it comes to delivering these services. They are a key stakeholder and their insights are indispensable to these discussions.

“Our union has highlighted significant challenges facing the mental health service, including staffing levels in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). It is a shame that the experience of our members has not been called upon to ensure the delivery of a safe, efficient service for those that depend on it.”

SIPTU calls on minister to expand radiation therapist places or face major crisis

The Government must urgently expand the number of third-level places in radiation therapy or face a major crisis, SIPTU warned the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, this week.

The union, along with Higher Education representatives, met with the Minister to discuss major staffing deficits in radiation therapists across country which has had a knock-on effect on patient waiting times and left vital equipment idle.

John McCamley, SIPTU Sector Organiser, said: “Radiation therapists perform a crucial job. Almost half of people with a cancer diagnosis will require radiation therapy as part of their treatment plan. This treatment is delivered by radiation therapists as part of a multi-disciplinary team and they are the only profession with the legal authority to deliver radiation therapy. These services are mainly delivered by the HSE in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

“SIPTU has successfully argued for the setting up of the radiation therapist review which will hopefully recommend measures to improve the retention of existing staff. However, there continues to be a shortage of new radiation therapist graduates and, if that continues, we are facing a major crisis.

“This week, we impressed on the Minister the need to expand undergraduate and postgraduate places to increase recruitment of radiation therapists and to offer supports for students during clinical placements. The meeting was positive and constructive. We welcome any assistance the Minister and his department can provide on this matter.”

SIPTU radiographers disappointed at HSE response to Galway hospitals’ staffing crisis

SIPTU radiographers at University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital have expressed their disappointment at the response from management at a meeting today (12th October) to discuss staffing levels.

Radiographers earlier this week voted overwhelmingly for industrial action up to and including strike action over short staffing and excessive workloads. The vote followed months of frustration over recruitment and retention issues at the two hospitals which have left SIPTU members facing a significant extra workload amid a 20 per cent staffing deficit.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “This dispute centres around staffing, increased workload, non-payment of wage arrears, out of hours arrangements and non-adherence to national agreements. There is a growing sense that HSE management is not willing to engage meaningfully to resolve this dispute and that the window to find a resolution is closing fast.

“SIPTU members are disappointed that no concrete proposals have come from management to resolve the dispute and are frustrated regarding the additional workload placed on radiographers as a result of inadequate staffing.

“SIPTU representatives are seeking commitments from management that it will address wage arrears as a matter of urgency and deal with patient safety issues in the provision of proper out of hours arrangements. ”

SIPTU radiographers in Galway vote for industrial action

Radiographers in University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action up to and including strike action in a dispute over safe staffing levels. The result follows months of frustration over recruitment and retention issues at the two hospital sites which have left SIPTU members facing a significant extra workload amid a 20 percent staffing deficit.

Proposals put forward by SIPTU representatives to address these issues have been rejected by management in recent weeks. Management’s reluctance to consider additional out-of-hours services in particular is at odds with the stated positions of the Minister of Health and HSE CEO. University Hospital Galway is one of the few hospitals and acute stroke centres in Ireland that does not provide an on-site radiographer at out-of-hours times for CT scans.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “There is a growing demand for qualified radiographers across Ireland. As a result, fundamental changes must be made to attract radiographers to Galway. If these are not forthcoming, there will be a full-blown crisis in both hospitals.

“SIPTU representatives are concerned that staffing deficits for radiographers in Galway could cause significant safety issues. We are calling for immediate action to be taken by management to address recruitment and retention.”

SIPTU seeks immediate engagement with HSE regarding recommendations in the CAMHS report

SIPTU representatives have today (Friday 28th July) sought immediate engagement with the Health Service Executive (HSE) over the implementation of the Independent Review of the Provision of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the State by the Inspector of Mental Health Services.

SIPTU, as one of the largest union representing staff working in mental health services, including psychiatric nurses, healthcare assistants, and support grades, welcomes the report’s recommendations. However, representatives expressed disappointment over the lack of formal engagement with members throughout the stakeholder process.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “Our members were not surprised by the report’s contents given they face each day the daunting task of providing care to vulnerable clients in a system plagued by deficits. We call on the HSE to begin a process of engagement with the relevant stakeholders to resolve these issues as a matter of urgency.”

“The dedication of all CAMHS staff must be recognised. They relentlessly strive to deliver vital services under challenging circumstances, and they would be the first to advocate for a world-class mental health service for young people in this country. They are an invaluable asset to the State, and we must bear this in mind as we confront the outcomes of this report.”

He added: “The report noted a number of ways staffing issues within CAMHS are having a detrimental effect on the delivery of the service. Crucially, the report highlighted the absence of a benchmark for safe staffing levels within child and adolescent mental health services. This must be addressed. The report also acknowledged the prevalence of low staff morale and burnout among healthcare workers in CAMHS; and raised serious concerns that some staff members are compelled to work beyond their contracted hours without additional compensation, all in a bid to provide essential therapeutic interventions, and stop some services from collapsing. This is not right, this is not fair, and ultimately this is not sustainable for staff or their clients.”

SIPTU says mental health services at breaking point due to lack of staff and burnout

SIPTU representatives have highlighted the threat to the operation of mental health services through lack of staff and worker burnout at a Policy Forum for Ireland online seminar, on the ‘Next steps for mental health services in Ireland’ which took place today (Tuesday, 20th June).

Addressing the seminar, SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “SIPTU has been to the fore in highlighting issues faced by our members in mental health services. They face heavy workloads and risk burnout due to a lack of staff.

“Problems with staffing are particularly acute in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). SIPTU representatives have requested a meeting with the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, to highlight the concerns of our members who work in CAMHS.

“We note that the Minister has announced that she has commenced a series of high-level roundtable discussions with key stakeholders in CAMHS and have been informed that SIPTU representatives will be asked to participate. It is our view that an engagement that focuses on the experiences of workers in this sector should happen without delay. It is imperative that we deal with the issues relating to staffing if we are to stem the flow of workers leaving these services.”

He added: “We welcomed the opportunity to address the seminar on behalf of our members as often the voice of workers is missing when the future of essential public services is discussed.”

SIPTU Radiation therapists forced to work extended days to complete cancer treatments

SIPTU members employed as radiation therapists are struggling to provide cancer treatments within the working day.

In a recent survey of members conducted among union members, 91% of respondents said that their location provided an ‘overrun service’ in order to keep on top of caseloads.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “An overrun service occurs when the scheduled service runs beyond the normal finish time. This can happen for a variety of reasons such as the addition of an emergency patient who requires treatment, delays with scheduled treatments throughout the day, machine breakdowns and to accommodate patients on waiting lists. Most radiation therapists will continue to treat scheduled patients until they are all seen.

“Our members have said this is as the result of a stretched service which is in desperate need of more radiation therapists to meet demand. They have also said that the practice is leading to burnout and difficulties with childcare. However, they are doing it out of care for the patients they are treating.”

Separately, the survey revealed that 84% of respondents believed that the public at large was not aware of the role of the radiation therapist in treating cancer.

McCamley continued: “Critically, our members feel as though their role is not recognised as being as crucial as it is in the treatment of cancer. Respondents felt that there is an awareness of the role that chemotherapy and surgery plays in the treatment of cancer, but not radiation therapy. This is despite the fact that radiation therapy is one of the main treatments of cancer.

“There is a view among our membership that you will likely not appreciate the significance of the the role of the radiation therapist unless you’re unfortunate enough to require their help some day.”

The SIPTU Radiation Therapist survey was completed in February 2023 across public and private practice. There are currently approximately 300 radiation therapists practicing in Ireland. Radiation therapy uses targeted high energy x-rays to treat patients with cancer..

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 calls for emergency plan to deal with staffing deficits in cancer services

SIPTU representatives have called on the HSE and the Minister of Health, Stephen Donnelly, to develop an emergency plan to deal with the deficits in cancer services resulting from a 30% shortfall in radiation therapists.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “Our members have established that the staffing deficit is causing increasing delays in cancer treatment. There are currently at least four cancer treatment machines that are not in operation around the country due to a lack of qualified radiation therapists.

“These machines could treat around 30 patients a day meaning there may be as much as 120 cases not being dealt with on a daily basis due to staffing deficits. Radiation therapists perform a crucial job, as almost half of people with a cancer diagnosis will require radiation therapy as part of their treatment plan. This treatment is delivered by radiation therapists as part of a multi-disciplinary team. It is the only profession with the legal authority to deliver radiation therapy services which are mainly provided by the HSE in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

“We have successfully argued for the setting up of the Radiation Therapist Review which will hopefully recommend measures to improve recruitment and retention. The union is calling for a short-term emergency plan to bridge the gap between the present situation and when the recommendations of the Radiation Therapist Review are agreed and implemented.”

He added: “The HSE and the Minister for Health need to act decisively to avert a full-blown staffing crisis within cancer services. Our members are calling for special provision to deal with the recruitment and retention issues for radiation therapists due to their crucial role in the delivery of cancer services. They have also requested that sufficient dedicated support staff be placed in radiation therapy departments to help with patient flow and to support radiation therapists so more of their time can be focused on carrying out treatment.”