'Frustration' as more operations cancelled ahead of Welsh junior doctors' strike

More operations are being cancelled at health boards across Wales ahead of the three-day junior doctors' strike next week.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan says "thousands of outpatients will be affected" by the walkout which will run from 7am on Monday 15 January to 7am on Thursday 18 January.

Between 70% and 80% of surgical procedures have been cancelled at Cardiff and Vale Health Board alone, according to Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Russell George.

He says it's a "frustrating" situation which will cause "severe disruption".

Ms Morgan wants to reassure people that "urgent and life-threatening care" will "continue to be provided" during this period.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says junior doctors have been left with "no choice" but to take action.

More than 3,000 doctors with up to 11 years of experience out of medical school will potentially withdraw their labour from Welsh hospitals and GP surgeries across Wales.

How has it come to this?

The Welsh junior doctors' committee decided to ballot members in August after being offered another below-inflation pay offer of 5%.

They say it is the worst in the UK and 1% lower than recommended by the review body for Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration.

Some 65% of junior doctors eligible to vote in Wales responded to a call to take part in strike action

What do junior doctors want?

The BMA wants "full restoration" for its members and says their wage packet has been cut by nearly a third (29.6%) in real terms since 2008/9.

Its members have already been given a 5% rise by the Labour Welsh government, which is below the 6% recommended by the independent remuneration body.

In England, junior doctors have already been given 8.8% and have been offered an additional increase worth 3% on average on top.

Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey, co-chairs of BMA Cymru Wales’ junior doctors' committee, said: "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."

They added: "Pay needs 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.

"On top of this junior doctors are experiencing worsening conditions and so doctors are now looking to leave Wales to develop their careers for better pay and a better quality of life elsewhere.

"This is not a decision that has been made lightly. No doctor wants to take industrial action, but we have been given no choice.

"Doctors are already voting with their feet and leaving the NHS and we are in a vicious cycle of crippling staffing shortages and worsening patient care."

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How has the Welsh government responded to the industrial action?

The Welsh Government has offered assurances with regard patient safety and says it will be a priority to ensure it is protected during the industrial action.

It will work in social partnership with the British Medical Association and NHS Employers during the 72-hour walkout.

Health Minister Morgan said: "We remain committed to working in social partnership with the British Medical Association and NHS Employers, and we are grateful for the collaborative approach to ensuring patient safety is protected during the industrial action.

"We expect non-emergency and elective activities to be stood down during this period, and for services to resemble those generally provided on a bank holiday."

She continued: "If you have a critical need to attend an emergency department you should still do so.

"We urge everyone to consider the best option for them, including using 111 online or phone service, or their local pharmacy."

With regards to "addressing pay restoration", the minister says the Welsh Government "wishes" to tackle this but that its offer is at the limits of the finances available. 

She told ITV Wales: "We would like to address their pay restoration ambitions, but the pay award offer we have made is at the limits of the finances available to us and reflects the position reached with the other unions.

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

The Welsh Conservatives Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS, says the walkout will add further pressure to the health system.

He said: "The people of Wales will share my frustration at the severe disruption caused by strike action in Labour-run Wales when we already have the longest waits for treatment in the UK.

"In Conservative-run England, junior doctors have been offered a pay rise over double that of Labour-run Wales’ – Labour have consistently put the worst offer in the UK on the table.

"The Welsh Conservatives would spend the full Barnett uplift received for health on health. Labour need to get round the table and at least match the independent pay review body recommendation, which Labour ministers have so far failed to."

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