Northern Ireland

Emergency care to continue during junior doctor strike

Junior doctors are to walk out in a 24-hour strike over pay on March 6

Emergency care nurses raised concerns about having to treat patients in corridors (Jeff Moore/PA)
Consultors will step in to treat patients as junior doctors strike next month. PICTURE: JEFF MOORE/PA

Junior doctors in the north have said urgent healthcare will continue during their 24-hour strike, amid uncertainty over cover throughout next month’s landmark action.

Consultants are set to step in to fill the void as junior doctors walk out on March 6, which will have a “knock-on effect” in other vital areas of the health service.

Stormont’s Department of Health (DoH) has warned the strike will “inevitably exacerbate the already severe pressures on our health service”.

British Medical Association balloted members backed the walk-out by 97.6%, and the action will be the latest blow to an already struggling health service following two years without a functioning Executive at Stormont.

It had been hoped that following the revival of the institutions, a deal on pay could be reached.

Monday saw finance minister Caoimhe Archibald bring a proposal before the Assembly to enable ministers to award public sector workers a fair pay increase.

However, Dr Fiona Griffin, chairwoman of BMA’s Northern Ireland junior doctors committee said the Department of Health told them in a recent meeting that no negotiations could take place until a dispute over junior doctors pay in England was resolved.

The committee’s vice-chair, Dr Steven Montgomery, told The Irish News they were “struggling to understand” the department’s stance.

Dr Steven Montgomery.
Dr Steven Montgomery.

“The department said they were not in a position to negotiate pay at the moment,” he said.

“They told us we need to wait until the English junior doctors get a pay deal, but health is a devolved matter for Stormont, so we’re struggling to understand this.

“Unfortunately, they were quite close-lipped about this when pressed further.”

Junior doctors in England are to begin a five-day strike from Saturday as they continue demands for a 35% pay increase.

Dr Montgomery said that during next month’s 24-hour strike in the north, emergency care would continue as normal.

“With regards to emergency and urgent care, that will still be provided,” he said.

However, instead of junior doctors, it’s going to be consultants taking up that role.

“Accident and Emergency wards will still be operating, so people requiring urgent treatment should still attend as they normally would.

“However, there will inevitably be knock-on effects, impacting clinics and elective surgery lists.”

Last week the BMA warned that while junior doctors were balloting on strike action, consultants and specialist doctors “are also moving in that direction” as a result over pay and conditions.

It is feared more medics will be pushed towards working overseas as a brain-drain continues.

A DoH spokesperson said resolving pay issues was now a “priority”, now additional funding for public sector pay was confirmed.

“This includes as an initial step moving to immediately implement the 2023/24 recommendations of the DDRB – a national NHS review body - for all doctors employed in the NI health service.”

The department said the offer will see a an average pay increase of 9.07% for junior doctors, with those in their first year receiving a 10.68% uplift.