Junior doctors in Wales 'frustrated' over pay to strike for three days in January

Junior doctors in England will strike from 7.00 am on 20 December to 7.00am 23 December and again in January. Credit: PA

Junior Doctors in Wales have backed a 72-hour strike in the new year after an overwhelming majority voted in favour of industrial action.

The three-day strike will take place from 15 January to 18 January 2024 and could involve more than 3,000 doctors.

The BMA Cymru told ITV Wales "Doctors are already voting with their feet and leaving the NHS" and is calling for "fair and competitive pay" in line with other healthcare systems across the world.

Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of its junior doctors committee said: “We are frustrated, in despair and angry and we have voted clearly to say, ‘In the name of our profession, we can’t and we won’t take any further erosion of our pay."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said it is "disappointing", but acknowledged "the strength of feeling about the 5% pay offer" saying "additional UK Government funding would be needed" to enable it to offer any more money.

A huge majority of junior doctors voted in favour of strike action for pay restoration with 65% of doctors in Wales voting and 98% backing a walkout.

The Welsh junior doctors committee decided to ballot members in August after being offered a 5% pay rise, the worst in the UK.

The offer was put to the doctors just four months after the Welsh Government initially declared they would commit to the principle of pay restoration back in April 2023.

Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey said: “Our members have been forced to take this difficult decision because Junior doctors in Wales have experienced a pay cut of 29.6 per cent in real terms over the last 15 years.

“A doctor starting their career in Wales will earn as little as £13.65**** an hour and for that they could be performing lifesaving procedures and taking on huge levels of responsibility.

“We aren’t asking for a pay rise - we are asking for our pay to be restored in line with inflation back to 2008 levels when we began to receive pay cuts in real terms.

Dr Babs-Osibodu and Dr Fahey want pay to be "fair and competitive with other healthcare systems across the world to retain and recruit doctors and NHS staff to provide much-needed care".

And say the situation is becoming dire for staff and patients. "Doctors are already voting with their feet and leaving the NHS", they said.

"We are in a vicious cycle of crippling staffing shortages and worsening patient care.”

NHS organisations across Wales will now have to react quickly to the news focusing on "understanding the implications on services" according to assistant director of the Welsh NHS Confederation Nesta Lloyd-Jones.

She says contingency plans need to be put in place to "minimise disruption to patient care".

Ms Lloyd-Jones added: "If any changes need to be made to non-urgent care services, such as check-ups and elective care, they will ensure this is communicated in advance to patients.”

The Welsh Government should have "done more to avert the strikes" says the Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS. He says the walkout couldn't come at a worse time and will "cause disruption after the busy Christmas period and inevitably beyond".

Mr George said: “Patients in Wales are already suffering from significant waiting times for treatment, in A&E and for ambulances".

He added: “I would suggest to Labour Ministers in the Senedd that they park their pet projects and spend the full Barnett consequential on the health budget, as for every £1 spent in England, Wales receives £1.20, yet Labour only spend £1.05 on the health service here in Wales.”

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, said: “Junior doctors have seen their pay eroded continuously and their pay is nearly a third less in real terms today than what it was fifteen years ago".

He added: “The decision to take industrial action is not one that they will have taken lightly, and it’s such a profound disappointment to see a Labour Government in Wales failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

And urged the Labour Government to "re-enter negotiations in good faith and not to leave any stone unturned in their endeavours to find a resolution that ensures that we retain the junior doctors that we have and attract more to work in the Welsh NHS."

The Welsh Government says it is "not in a position to offer any more money" and it's "at the limits of the finances it has available".

But remains "committed" to working in partnership with the British Medical Association and NHS Employers to ensure that "patient safety is protected" during the strike.

A spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that doctors have voted for industrial action but we understand their strength of feeling about the 5% pay offer.“While we wish to address their pay restoration ambitions, our offer is at the limits of the finances available to us and reflects the position reached with the other health unions for this year. 

"Without additional funding from the UK Government, we are not in a position to currently offer any more.

"We will continue to press them to pass on the funding necessary for full and fair pay rises for public sector workers."

The UK Government told ITV Wales: “The Welsh Government is well funded to deliver on its devolved responsibilities - including health – as we are providing it with a record £18 billion per year settlement, the highest since devolution.

“It must ultimately answer to the Senedd and the people of Wales on how it chooses to fund services.”

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