Northern Ireland

Hundreds of junior doctors march on Stormont over pay dispute

Some doctors say they are having to reduce their hours over the intense pressure they deal with, while a senior medic also warned the budget cuts would cause excess deaths

Dr Fiona Griffin (centre) leads the march by junior doctors to Parliament Buildings
Dr Fiona Griffin (centre) leads the march by junior doctors to Parliament Buildings (Liam McBurney/PA)

HUNDREDS of junior doctors from hospitals across Northern Ireland marched on Stormont on Thursday to make their voices heard over pay and conditions.

The third strike from junior doctors this year, the strength of feeling was just as strong even with an average pay increase of 9.07% for junior doctors for 2023/24 due to be paid soon and a new health minister in place.

The BMA is still calling to reverse an estimated 30% erosion in pay since 2008 in order to stop more staff leaving.

Two doctors attending the rally told The Irish News they were reducing their hours, or quiet quitting, because of the pressure they were under.

Dr Fiona Griffin, chairwoman of the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee speaking as junior doctors protest outside Stormont
Dr Fiona Griffin, chairwoman of the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee speaking as junior doctors protest outside Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)


Fiona Griffin, the chair of the BMA’s Northern Ireland Junior Doctors Committee, told The Irish News her members were willing to accept pay restoration in stages.

“A lot of things have changed, we’re looking forward to working with the new health minister,” she said.

“The pay award for 2023/24 was agreed last July and it still hasn’t reached the bank accounts of junior doctors.

“We’re hoping that the health minister and department actually listen to our concerns and talk to us about our pay issues.”

She said the intense budgetary pressures facing the Stormont Executive were ultimately a political decision about which services to cut, and that she was hopeful that if a Labour government was elected it could result in more funding becoming available for Northern Ireland.

With an invitation to meet with Mike Nesbitt issued this week, she said her committee would then decide on their next steps.

Ciara Greer junior doc in Lagan Valley hospital and Oisin Fearon from SWAH,  at Stormont in Belfast  in a dispute over pay.
The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Ciara Greer junior doc in Lagan Valley hospital and Oisin Fearon from SWAH, at Stormont in Belfast in a dispute over pay. The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Ciara Greer (29) works in general medicine at Lagan Valley Hospital.

“I’m not in the meetings, but I get the impression that the government aren’t really engaging particularly well,” she said.

“But I think in terms of support from the public it remains as strong as ever.”

She is now planning to reduce her hours next year to lessen the pressure.

“You’re talking at least 50 hours every week, then add on all your exams, all the studying. It’s quite a stressful job, it’s an awful lot of responsibility so it is a lot to cope with.

“I think that’s a big part of the reason people are here today. I think there’s a lot of understanding about what we do and how hard we work, and the disrespect we’re getting from the government not taking us seriously and making out that we’re just money grabbing can be quite frustrating.”

Oisin Fearon (28) is a cardiology and general medicine doctor at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.

“It’s frustrating that we’re still having to go on strike…to get the government to listen to us,” he said.

He said the staffing pressures caused by pay erosion made it especially hard to attract staff to smaller hospitals along the border like the SWAH and Daisy Hill Hospital.

“To patients, we are sorry for any disruption. We would love not to strike….to be off taking a day of unpaid leave.

“To the health minister, we want him to engage with us and make real concrete progress.”

Junior doctors protest at Stormont in Belfast  in a dispute over pay.
The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Junior doctors protest at Stormont in Belfast in a dispute over pay. The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Also attending was Derry GP Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA Council Northern Ireland.

“We’ve met with Mike Nesbitt as the BMA, we’ve said to him your problems are under funding, we don’t have enough staff - he knows that.

“The biggest problem of course is the waiting lists on the number of people needing hospital care at the moment.

“Mike Nesbitt understands these issues, solving them will be the hard problem.

“He’ll need the support of his colleagues in the Stormont Executive.”

With reduced funding for a health service “already in crisis,” he said excess deaths were inevitable.

“That’s the main problem the minister is going to go have,” he said.

“There will be excess deaths due to the difficulty in getting a GP, in getting an ambulance, into wards and getting an operation.

“So there will be excess mortality throughout the system and we will see this next year with avoidable deaths coming through the statistics.

“And the life expectancy will probably start decreasing in Northern Ireland.”

Introducing a hybrid model for his own GP practice in Derry, he sees his registered patients for free and runs a private service for those not registered.

“That had to be done because we were under funded and due to go bankrupt and to close.

“The doctors are working extra and not getting paid for it. The money’s going in to subsidise the practice.

“It’s going well and I’m happy top say the practice is now stable. Unless bad things happen this winter we hope to get through the rest of the year.”

Outside Stormont’s gates, the crowd was promised support by MLAs from People Before Profit, the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Féin.

Patrick Mulholland from the NIPSA trade union also told junior doctors to loud cheers that his members “will join you in your resistance”.

Junior doctors protest at Stormont in Belfast  in a dispute over pay.
The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Junior doctors protest at Stormont in Belfast in a dispute over pay. The 48-hour full walkout runs from 07:00 BST on Thursday 6 June until 07:00 on Saturday 8 June. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Junior doctor Ross Brown protesting outside Stormont, as they take part in a 48-hour strike over pay and staff retention
Junior doctor Ross Brown protesting outside Stormont, as they take part in a 48-hour strike over pay and staff retention (Liam McBurney/PA)