Andrews Hangs Radiation Therapists Out to Dry

Victorian Radiation Therapists are set to return to the streets today in an escalation of their ongoing industrial action in response to continued threats to the integrity of their career structure.

Alfred Health has been attempting to push through a fundamental career structure reform since June 2018 but have been met with staunch opposition spearheaded by a Radiation Therapy workforce exasperated by years of mismanagement within the radiation oncology department.

The reform if successful would undermine a long-standing and carefully crafted career structure through the removal of the most senior and expert layer of the Radiation Therapy workforce and their replacement by low-paid generic managers without a requirement to have any expertise in the use of ionising radiation.

Rallies commence at 12:30 today and take aim at the three preeminent Victorian providers of radiation oncology: Alfred Health, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (VCCC) and the Andrew Love Cancer Centre at Barwon Health.

“We will be talking to as many patients and relatives as we can today, to express our deep concern at these idiotic attacks on our Radiation Therapists,” noted Craig McGregor, Secretary of the Victorian Allied health Professionals Association, the union that covers Radiation Therapists.

“We will also be talking to as many people about an issue that has infuriated our membership; why is it that the nurses are treated fairly and respectfully by the government yet the Allied Health workforce is treated with what appears to be disdain?,” continued McGregor.

The Radiation Therapy cohort will be supported by a growing contingent of concerned allied health professionals, radiographers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and others, who share a common enterprise agreement and an analogous career structure with the Radiation Therapists and who fear that this decision is part of a broader move to undermine Allied Health Professionals across the state.

“There isn’t a shred of evidence that offers this decision any kind of support. To the contrary, every expert in the country stands in stark opposition to the decision. The hospital’s own expert review into the department makes recommendations that are diametrically opposed to the approach taken by management. The million dollar tripartite Workforce Enhance Plan that emerged during the last round of bargaining stands diametrically opposed to the decision. And most embarrassingly, it seeks to undermine the foundational principles established by the seminal 2002 federal Radiation Oncology Inquiry–the most extensive and highly regarded review into radiation oncology in Australia’s history.

“In short, this is a toxic thought bubble begging for a pin.” said VAHPA Lead Organiser, Linda Jenkin.

Marilyn Baird, Head of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences at Monash University expressed dismay at the position adopted by Alfred Health. “The proposal is a retrograde step and undermines all the educational advancements we’ve made in the past 30 years. Career progression is already hard enough for these health professionals without whom the delivery of radiation oncology would grind to a halt. The decision will negatively impact retention. If practitioners can’t see a movement forward, what would encourage them to stay?”

Despite this, the Victorian government has chosen to adopt a “hands off” approach to this dispute. This is in sharp contrast to the unprecedented level of support that the Andrew government offered the nurses.

In February the Andrews government saw its nurse patient ratio legislation become law. The Andrews government also oversaw negotiations for the most recent nursing enterprise agreement which provided generous benefits to workers and that resulted in the unprecedented 8-year enterprise agreement. More recently, the government assigned some $3.4 billion to the nurses to fund 1100 new nursing positions.

Meanwhile the government has refused to fund 10 of the 27 well established and beneficial Radiation Therapy intern positions in the current year. This move works to prevent the Radiation Therapy interns from completing their studies and denies them access to the registration they require to work in Australia.

This decision on the part of the Andrews government summarily overturns a long standing and highly successful model of cooperation between the universities, the hospitals and the government. It also leaves the public sector without ten Radiation Therapists this year alone.

“There is something profoundly unfair about this situation. The Allied Health workforce may not wield the same political clout that the paramedics or the nurses do, but they do provide vital and highly specialised care that all Victorians rely on,” concluded McGregor.

/Public Release.