Junior doctors’ strike to cause widespread disruption, Northern Ireland Department of Health warns

BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors previously took to picket lines in March.

Patients have been warned that the health service in Northern Ireland will experience “widespread disruption” next week when junior doctors embark on a two-day strike.

The statement from the Department of Health came ahead of the first of two planned 48-hour walkouts by junior doctors, which will start at 7am on Wednesday. The second strike is schedule for June 6-8.

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland took strike action for the first time in March, staging a 24-hour walkout that affected hospitals and GP surgeries.

The strike action was called after 97.6% of junior doctors balloted by their union, BMA Northern Ireland, voted in favour of industrial action.

The BMA has called for a commitment to a full pay restoration to 2008 levels, claiming that junior doctors have seen their salaries effectively eroded by 30% over the last 15 years due to a failure to make pay awards in line with inflation.

The union has said some newly qualified doctors are earning £13 per-hour in Northern Ireland.

The department said health trusts would be working to mitigate the impact as much as possible.

It said more information on affected service areas would be published next week.

“Significant disruption is expected not only on the two strike days but over following days,” said the statement.

“The department stands ready to continue discussions with the Junior Doctors Committee and does not accept that talks have ‘collapsed’.

“There are important issues of substance to be progressed, including reform of the current junior doctor contract in NI. The department has offered a process of independent arbitration, but this has not been taken up to date.

“When the ballot for industrial action was launched, junior doctors – like the rest of the NI health service staff – had received no pay award for 2023/24.

“That is no longer the case. The 2023/24 recommendations of the national pay review body, the DDRB, have now been implemented in NI. The award will be paid in the June pay run, landing in pay packets next month.

“For junior doctors in Northern Ireland, it will bring an average pay increase of 9.07%, with those in their first year receiving a 10.68% uplift.

“The department cannot resolve the BMA demand for pay restoration – for a pay settlement that reverses public sector pay limits over the past decade and more.

“That’s an issue that has impacted public sector employees across the UK as a result of UK Government policy. It is a national issue that cannot be resolved locally.”

The BMA’s Northern Ireland Junior Doctor Committee said newly qualified medics in Northern Ireland see colleagues working elsewhere in the UK and in other jurisdictions getting better pay and conditions for less pressurised workloads.

It has warned that doctors are leaving the health service in Northern Ireland in increasing numbers due to “decreasing morale from poor pay and high workloads”.

The committee has said junior doctors have been left with no choice but to take further industrial action.

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