NHS patients ‘made to wait' as radiographers are told to set time aside for private treatment

Thursday, 30th August 2012

Radiographers outside the Royal Free during last Thursday’s strike action

Published: 30 August, 2012
by TOM FOOT

RADIOGRAPHERS at the Royal Free Hospital say they have been asked to set aside one hour a day to scan private patients.

The expert staff walked out on strike last Thursday for the second time in a fortnight in a row over “enforced” evening and weekend shifts.

They say fee-payers get priority over NHS patients in a new system that has been introduced by bosses since the hospital became an independently run “foundation trust”.

A member of the Society of Radiographers (SoR) union, who chose not to be named (staff can face disciplinary hearings for talking to the New Journal) said: “NHS patients have to wait for scans during this hour – whatever their condition.”

A Royal Free spokeswoman said the hour was an “outline schedule to facilitate the flow of patients”.

Radiographers take and analyse X-rays, MRI and CT scans and mammograms. 

Government reforms mean hospital bosses are free to generate more income from fee-paying private patients. 

Recently published accounts show the Royal Free earned £19,224,000 from private patients in 2011/2012 – compared to £14.3million in 2008/09.

Comparatively, University College London Hospitals – which has a much larger total budget – earned £13.3million last year.

Royal Free bosses say extra funding can be channelled back into the hospital, boosting services for NHS patients.

Two new private clinics are launching next week: The Royal Free London Private Urology Clinic on the 12th floor, and a newly designed and refurbished private paediatric clinic on the first floor.

Private patients at the Royal Free are promised “amazing views of Hampstead Heath or London landmarks”, as well as satellite TV, a remote control, telephone, nurse call facilities and a daily newspaper.

According to recent board papers, treatment for overseas visitors worth £350,000 was written off in 2011/12. 

The SoR called its members out again after the hospital “totally ignored” their demands for a fairer rota system.

The staff handed out hundreds of leaflets to patients on Thursday and said that hundreds of appointments were affected. 

A statement from the Royal Free said: “The trust was given notice that the Society of Radiographers would be carrying out a second day of industrial action on Thursday, 23 August, in response to a new shift pattern which was introduced in the radiology department almost a year ago. 

“Arrangements were made to ensure that acute and emergency radiography services could run as normal and 109 planned appointments were rescheduled in advance to minimise disruption to patients on the day. We apologise to the patients whose appointments needed to be rescheduled.

“The new shift pattern was introduced to improve services for patients. It enables the trust to deliver a safe and timely service and to ensure staff’s working hours comply with the European Working Time Directive. Since the new rota was introduced, average waiting times for radiography services have fallen.”

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