Junior Doctors' two-day strike causes 'significant disruption' to Northern Ireland Health Service

Junior Doctors have taken to picket lines across Northern Ireland for the first of two days of strike action resulting in 'significant disruption' to services at all five health trusts.

The industrial action started at on Wednesday at 7am and will last until 7am on Friday 24 May, with junior doctors saying they have "had enough".

Two further days of strike action are expected in June (6 - 8), after pay talks with the Health Department broke down.

In a statement, the department outlined that it "stands ready to continue discussions with the Junior Doctors Committee" and doesn't accept that talks "collapsed”.

Speaking at a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, Chair of the NI Junior Doctors Committee Dr Fiona Griffin told UTV "Junior Doctors pay has been eroded over 30% in the past 16 years".

She added that many doctors are choosing to leave the country for better paid jobs elsewhere, and that training opportunities are "becoming less and less".

Dr Griffin added that resolving the pay dispute would "help fix some of those issues and bring more doctors to Northern Ireland".

"Doctors are telling us they’re struggling to pay their day-to-day bills," said Dr Griffin, adding that beyond the rising cost of living and increases to mortgage and rent rates, there are additional, external costs facing junior doctors such as paying for their examinations to enable them to keep working which can cost in the region of £1,500.

"Doctors were paid a lot more back in the day but over the last 16 years that has dropped by 30%.

"We’re realistic about the situation about the budget and the north as a whole.

"Everyone behind me is a junior doctor, but in the future they will be the consultants of the future - it’s becoming harder to encourage people to stay here."

Dr Griffin added that the union met with the health minister on Tuesday morning but that he outlined that his budgetary allocation meant "he has no money and is unable to offer anything with regard to pay".

"I understand the budget that the minister has been handed is not what he wanted and all departments haven’t got what they wanted essentially, but in my opinion, prioritising staff is a political decision and the choice not to prioritise staff is also a political decision," said Dr Griffin.

"There needs to be a realistic conversation booth what we can and can’t deliver but we can’t deliver any services without doctors or other health care staff.

"I really hope this our last period of strike action - nobody here wants to be here, we all want to be in work - if anyone is able to come forward with an offer, any offer, we would happily call of further rounds of strike action - we have a further two days of strike planned in June. We’ll call that off if a reasonable offer can be made to members."

At Stormont on Tuesday, the Health Minister Robin Swann was questioned about the strike action.

He told MLAs that he "had a good conversation with our junior doctor committee (on Tuesday) morning.

"It was about recognition: I recognise the strains and stresses that they are under and the remit that they have to seek further pay settlements with regard to industrial action," he added.

"However, they (junior doctors) acknowledged the challenging position that I am in with the budget allocation that I have.

"While we continue to talk and negotiate, we continue to engage at all levels."

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