Northern Ireland

Consultants ‘left with no alternative’ but to ballot on industrial action over pay

BMA NI ballot will open on May 7 for 5 weeks

Consultants will be balloted from next month over taking industrial action over a pay dispute.
Consultants will be balloted from next month over taking industrial action over a pay dispute.

Consultant doctors in the north are to be balloted on taking industrial action over pay.

The ballot follows discussions between representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) Northern Ireland and the Department of Health over the “continuing erosion of consultant pay and the impact this is having on consultant recruitment and retention”.

The BMA has warned that the situation is impacting patient care and said consultants have “no alternative” but to now ballot.

It follows a 24-hour strike by junior doctors over pay last month, during which consultants provided cover.

The ballot will open on May 7 for five weeks.

BMA NI consultants committee chair Dr David Farren said it was “imperative” that consultants concerns over pay were met, following a recent new pay deal for consultants in England and pay talks ongoing in Scotland and Wales.

“We really feel we have been left with no alternative but to strike,” he said.

“Morale is at an all-time low among consultants here; we do not feel valued for the complex, challenging and stressful work we undertake, and we do not deserve to be paid less than colleagues in the rest of the UK or Ireland for doing the same job. In fact, given the crisis in our health service the job is arguably even harder here. It is imperative that we secure at least the same terms and conditions for consultants here.

“We asked consultants in Northern Ireland last year were they willing to strike, and they were clear they were; 77% of those who responded said they were willing to take industrial action.

“But we have held off moving to a full ballot in the hope that with a new Executive and health minister in place we could make some progress and address this issue, but unfortunately we have not been able to come to agreement with them.”

Dr Farren said health minister Robin Swann has confirmed he will apply the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB) uplift of 6%, but doctors were still waiting for it to be paid, and fear it may be paid just before the DDRB recommendation for 2024-25.

“So nearly a year late, all of which contributes to consultants feeling totally devalued,” he said

“If we don’t do something now to fix our pay, then what we will see is the continued loss of doctors from our health service and a system that will no longer be able to care for patients.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said discussions have been continuing over pay issues.

“Key to any progress on this issue will be the budgetary settlement for the Department and this has been clearly set out during these discussions,” they said.

“The Department cannot, in advance of final funding decisions, make any firm commitment at this point to further pay offers.”

Meanwhile, social work staff in the Belfast Health Trust will begin industrial action today, ahead of action in other trust areas in the coming weeks.

The dispute concerns a “sustained staffing crisis” in family and childcare services.

Union NIPSA has said a last-ditch attempt to avoid the action through a meeting with health minister Robin Swann on Wednesday “did not reach a useful conclusion”.

NIPSA deputy general secretary Patrick Mulholland said of those striking: “These health service workers are determined to ensure our health service does not let down the most vulnerable people in society.

“This action is only the start of our campaign to ensure children and families can rely on their health service to be there when they need it and to ensure it is fit for purpose. NIPSA will engage with employers to ensure appropriate mitigations are in place to protect life and limb.”