Daily exodus of junior doctors will continue without fair pay deal, Stormont rally told

The daily exodus of junior doctors out of Northern Ireland will continue without a “fair and just” pay deal, striking medics have heard. Hundreds of doctors and supporters gathered outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont on Thursday on the first day of their latest 48-hour walkout amid an ongoing industrial dispute over pay and retention issues. The strike began at 7am on Thursday and will end at the same time on Saturday morning.

It comes after a similar 48-hour walkout in May and a 24-hour strike in March. The action in March was the first time junior doctors had ever gone on strike in Northern Ireland. Their union, BMA Northern Ireland, has called for a commitment to 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 BMA says 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, and warned doctors are leaving the health service in increasing numbers. Doctors marched from the front gates of the Stormont estate in Belfast to the steps of Parliament Buildings for the lunchtime demonstration. Several MLAs emerged from the building to join the event. Chairwoman of the BMA’s Northern Ireland junior doctor committee, Dr Fiona Griffin, told the colourful and noisy rally that colleagues were leaving the region at an alarming rate. “Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen our pay eroded by over 30%. “Inflation has soared, but our pay has not kept up,” she said. “The refusal to give appropriate and timely pay awards has not only undervalued our hard work and dedication, but it has made it more difficult to support families, more difficult to pay the high costs associated with our training and more difficult to stay in the country. “Many of our colleagues have made the decision to leave this country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. “This is not a decision that they have taken lightly, but rather a reflection of the dire situation that we all face.”

Dr Fiona Griffin Credit: PA

Dr Griffin disputed any suggestion the BMA was exaggerating its warnings around the number of doctors emigrating. “We know who’s leaving because it’s us picking up the shifts that are left behind and we’re having the added pleasure of seeing them out there on sandy beaches in Australia on their Instagram,” she said. “Our NHS is losing talented and dedicated professionals every day. “And this exodus is a direct result of the Department of Health’s failure to adequately support and compensate us.” Dr Griffin continued: “We’re not asking for special treatment. “We’re asking for what is fair and just, we’re asking for recognition of our hard work, our dedication and our contribution to the health and well being of society. “We’re asking for a pay structure that reflects the true value of our work, that allows us to live without financial anxiety, and enables us to continue to provide the best possible care for our patients.” She added: “For too long have healthcare staff been at the bottom of the list of priorities and right now we say enough is enough.” In a statement, the Department of Health said it expected widespread disruption to services across Thursday and Friday as a result of the strike. It said that when the ballot for the industrial action was launched, junior doctors, along with all health service staff, had not received a pay award for 2023/24. The department said that was no longer the case and 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. “This pay award involves an average pay increase of 9.07% for junior doctors in Northern Ireland, with those in their first year receiving a 10.68% uplift,” the statement added.

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