Northern Ireland

Patients told to expect ‘widespread disruption’ ahead of junior doctors strikes on Thursday and Friday

This will be the third walkout from junior doctors in Northern Ireland this year as pressure on the health service’s budget intensifies

Junior doctors at a picket line at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast during a 48 hour strike in Northern Ireland over pay and staff retention
Junior doctors at a picket line at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast during a 48 hour strike in May. Another two days of strike action will take place on Thursday and Friday.

PATIENTS have been told to expect “widespread disruption” on Thursday and Friday, with junior doctors in the north set to stage their third walkout this year.

The 48-hour strike from 7am on Thursday to 7am on Saturday is being taken by junior doctors in the BMA over pay and conditions.

The strikes will also coincide with the launch day of a new multi-million pound digital patient records system, encompass, in the Belfast Trust.

A central demand from junior doctors is pay restoration, with salaries estimated to have eroded by 30% since 2008 – making workforce retention much more difficult with better pay available across the UK and the Republic.

The Department of Health has said further information will be released on the services affected on health and social care (HSC) trust websites this week.

A spokesperson added that when the ballot for strike action was returned in February (with 97% in favour of strike action on a 63% turnout), junior doctors and other health workers in Northern Ireland had received no pay award for 2023/24.

“This is no longer the case. A backdated 2023/24 pay award for junior doctors will be paid this month, with its terms in line with the recommendations of the national pay review body, the DDRB.”

This involves a pay increase of 9.07% for junior doctors in Northern Ireland, with those in their first year receiving a 10.68% uplift.

A recent financial assessment from the Department of Health has also painted a bleak picture of the budget, stating with a potential shortfall of around £400m in the budget for 2024/25, there is no provision for any further pay awards meaning that industrial action from health workers is likely to continue.

On Tuesday, Stormont’s Health Minister Mike Nesbitt said he was left stunned by the budget.

“In short, catastrophic cuts will simply make the situation worse,” he said.

“Pressures on services and staff, already at severe levels, will be significantly intensified.

“It also means, that as we currently stand, there is no feasible route to affording pay awards.”

He added: “Let me be clear – cuts with catastrophic impacts – not on my watch.”

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt has made clear he is not prepared to countenance ‘catastrophic cuts’
(Liam McBurney/PA)