Northern Ireland

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland announce two 48-hour walkouts after pay talks break down

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland previously staged their first ever strike on March 6

Junior doctors vote to continue taking industrial action over pay
Junior doctors vote to continue taking industrial action over pay (David Young/PA)

JUNIOR doctors in Northern Ireland have announced they will stage two new 48-hour strikes after pay talks with the Department of Health broke down.

It follows their first ever strike on March 6, where medics demanded a full pay restoration to 2008 levels - stating their pay had eroded by 30% over 15 years.

This month, the first walkout will take place from 7am on Wednesday, May 22, to Friday, May 24 with the second from 7am on Thursday, June 6, to Saturday, June 8.

The latest decision follows a budget dispute between the Stormont Executive and the Health Minister Robin Swann, who said he needs at least another £300m to maintain services at their current level.

Northern Ireland junior doctor committee (NIJDC) chair, Dr Fiona Griffin, commented: “After our 24-hour walk out on March 6 we were invited by the health minister to meet with his officials about our pay asks. We agreed to this in good faith and were hopeful for productive and meaningful discussions.

Dr Fiona Griffin, chair of BMA's Northern Ireland junior doctors committee. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Dr Fiona Griffin, chair of BMA's Northern Ireland junior doctors committee. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

“Despite some progress on non-pay issues, regrettably there has been no progress at all on our key asks around pay including a commitment to work towards full pay restoration. This has left us with no choice but to escalate our strike action.”

She added: “We are very disappointed that we have not been able to make any progress, but we must act on behalf of our members who voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action for full pay restoration.

“Doctors can see their colleagues elsewhere in the UK and in other jurisdictions getting better pay and conditions for less pressurised workloads. This, along with years of below inflation or non-existent pay uplifts, the latest of which for the 2023/24 financial year has still yet to be paid, further adds to the reality that the key role junior doctors have in the health service is simply not valued.”

Addressing Mr Swann’s concerns that health staff pay uplifts may not be honoured because of the health budget, she said: “The levels of discontent among doctors about pay is now so palpable that our consultant colleagues plan to ballot members for industrial action, and a recent indicative ballot of (Specialist, staff grade, associate specialist and speciality doctors (SAS) members returned a yes vote for the same course of action. The health service cannot function without doctors and they are leaving in growing numbers due to decreasing morale from poor pay and high workloads.

“We have been left with no choice but to take action. If our government wants the health service to survive and retain doctors, then it must act now and prioritise staff pay. Nothing less than a commitment to full pay restoration to 2008 levels will only address this.”

The Department of Health has been contacted for a response.

Alliance Party Health spokesperson Danny Donnelly has called for “urgent dialogue” between the Health Minister and junior doctors, warning that failing to resolve pay issues would continue workforce problems and ultimately affect patient safety.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that talks have broken down between the Department of Health and the NIJDC, particularly when our health service is in as critical a state as it is,” he said.

“Junior doctors play a vital role right across the health service in keeping it functioning day-to-day and they deserve to be paid in a way that’s reflective of this. This also means that everything possible must be done to prevent industrial action on such a scale as this, which would inevitably be hugely disruptive to an already strained system.”