Northern Ireland

Consultant doctors in NI to be balloted on industrial action

The formal vote follows an earlier indicative ballot (Lynne Cameron/PA)
The formal vote follows an earlier indicative ballot (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Consultant doctors in Northern Ireland are to be balloted on industrial action over pay concerns.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the decision to move to a formal dispute and balloting members was taken following an indicative ballot of members where 77% of consultants who responded said they were willing to take industrial action.

Dr David Farren, Northern Ireland consultants committee chair, said doctors no longer felt valued.

“Pay has fallen behind other nations and behind the Republic of Ireland. We cannot recruit or retain doctors anymore,” he said.

“Goodwill is currently keeping the system running and is increasingly in short supply when Northern Ireland is not even paying the 5% to 6% uplift that colleagues in the rest of the UK are getting, despite their ongoing disputes.

“We have been told that any money that did become available would instead be used to address a budget deficit not of our making.

“Despite the fact consultants now deal with more complex cases in a much more challenging environment, whilst a crisis builds in the health service, our pay no longer reflects the level of responsibility or clinical risk we undertake every day.

“Our aim is to fix consultant pay now and for the future. This should begin with an agreement to provide an above inflationary pay award for 2023/24 and a clear pathway to restoring years of pay lost to austerity.”

It comes after junior doctors in Northern Ireland announced last week they would hold a ballot on strike action over concerns about pay and “unacceptable workplace pressures”.

Dr Farren added: “No doctor wants to take industrial action, we care about our patients and we know this announcement will be distressing for them, but doctors are telling me every day that they are looking to leave Northern Ireland or retire because of pay disparity.

“No doubt the Department of Health will warn that any industrial action will make matters worse, but given that Northern Ireland’s waiting lists have been the longest of any in the UK for several years, we cannot ignore the harm to patients that in itself is causing.

“If we don’t fix pay we won’t be able to fix our health service as we will not be able to recruit or retain doctors.

“We note that junior doctors in Northern Ireland have also decided to ballot for industrial action, and we support them in this decision.

“We have met with the permanent secretary for health and with political representatives and they are well aware of the depth of feeling there is among doctors.

“We also requested a meeting with the Secretary of State but this was declined, as it was stated it was a matter for our Assembly to address.

“We are always open to meeting again and seeking ways to address these issues and secure the future of health in Northern Ireland.”