Patients fear conditions 'might worsen' as appointments cancelled due to junior doctors' strike

Patients are concerned their conditions "might worsen" if appointments are cancelled, as junior doctors strike across Wales in a row over pay. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Patients are concerned their conditions "might worsen" if further appointments are cancelled, as junior doctors strike across Wales in a row over pay.

It's proving to be "very challenging" for local health boards as they put "high-level priorities" in place to "ensure the safe and effective care" of those who need it most.

The BMA says the Welsh Government's "inaction" over "pay restoration" has left junior doctors "demoralised, frustrated and angry". They say their pay has been eroded by almost a third since 2008/9.

Junior doctors on the picket line at the Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Health Minister Eluned Morgan told ITV Wales the Welsh Government "wishes" to tackle this but its offer is "at the limits of the finances available". 

With healthcare a devolved issue, it is up to the Welsh Government how it prioritises funding.

Patients are concerned about delays in treatment

Thousands of operations and appointments have been cancelled across Wales from Monday 15 January to Thursday 18 January, leaving many patients wondering when they will be rescheduled.

Pam Perceval-Maxwell, from Tenby, has wet age-related macular degeneration which she was diagnosed with in 2021. 

She told Good Morning Britain she fears she might be losing her sight and is concerned about the impact delays in treatment will have on her condition.

Credit: Good Morning Britain

Ms Perceval-Maxwell said: "In the two and a bit years since my diagnosis, twice I've had severe delays on those injections which has caused deterioration in my sight.

"Those of us with this condition get into bed every night terrified that we are not going to be able to see the following morning."

Hywel Dda University Health Board has addressed Ms Perceval-Maxwell's concerns. Director of Secondary Care, Keith Jones, said: “We understand that our patients are concerned about the effect the Junior Doctors’ industrial action may have on their appointments.

"Whereas some of our planned care services have been impacted, we would like to reassure patients that urgent and time-critical appointments, including urgent ophthalmology appointments, have not been cancelled and will go ahead as planned.”

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What impact is the strike having on health boards?

Between 70% and 80% of surgical procedures have been cancelled at Cardiff and Vale Health Board alone.

Its medical director Professor Meriel Jenney told ITV Wales: "This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we recognise the distress and disruption this will cause to patients, particularly those who have waited the longest."

She added: “During what is expected to be a very challenging 72-hour period, the health board has had to put high-level priorities in place to ensure the continuation of safe and effective care for those patients who need us most.

"As a result, we are prioritising urgent and emergency care, then focusing on time critical interventions and cancer services during the period of industrial action."

To keep its services as safe as possible, the health board cancelled most elective and non-urgent appointments and surgeries scheduled to take place.

Prof Jenney said: "This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we recognise the distress and disruption this will cause to patients, particularly those who have waited the longest.

"However, it is essential that we can continue to provide safe and effective care to those patients who require our services unexpectedly as a result of a medical emergency, accident or injury."

Junior doctors on the picket line outside Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Junior doctors on picket lines across Wales have been telling ITV Wales how the pressures on them are "unbelievable".

At Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan, Rhyl, Jamie who has worked there for 18 months said it's not just junior doctors who are "struggling".

He said: "Speaking to some of my colleagues who are more senior than me, it’s some of the worst they’ve ever seen, especially over this winter period.

"We’re working incredibly long hours, we’re staying late, sometimes not even able to take a break. You’re taking a lot home with you, you take a lot into your personal life, and sometimes it can just feel relentless.

"You’re trying as hard as you possibly can for patients and sometimes your ‘trying’ is just not enough."

Junior doctors Jamie and Tash joined the picket line at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan, Rhyl

Tash has been at the hospital for four years and says she "loves" her job but described how those in the profession are losing out on having a "normal life".

She said: "You work ridiculous hours, you work weekends, you miss family events,  you miss family deaths, family funerals, family birthdays.

"You lose a lot and you give a lot for the job, and I don't think it’s as respected as it used to be or should be.

She added: "It’s a real slap in the face, we work so hard for everybody and then just to say you’re not worth what you should be paid, let alone going above and beyond, just what you should be paid and you’re not even worth that.”

What's next? Junior doctors will take their fight to the Senedd tomorrow

The campaign for "pay restoration" will step up on day two of the walkout. Hundreds of junior doctors will take their concerns to members of the Senedd on Tuesday 16 January.

A mass demonstration is set to take place outside the Welsh Parliament building.

Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey, co-chairs of BMA Cymru Wales’ junior doctors' committee, said: “No doctor wants to strike; we had hoped the Welsh Government had properly understood the strength of feeling amongst junior doctors in Wales.

"Sadly, their inaction over this matter has led us here today, demoralised, frustrated and angry. 

“After years of undervaluing our lifesaving service we feel we’ve been left with no choice but to stand up for the profession and say enough is enough, we cannot and will not accept the unacceptable anymore. 

“Our members have been forced to take this difficult decision because Junior doctors in Wales have experienced a pay cut of 29.6% in real terms over the last 15 years."

ITV Wales recently reported on doctors leaving Wales for what they described as "better pay and way of life" overseas.

Dr Babs-Osibodu and Dr Fahey say doctors are "voting with their feet" and "leaving the NHS in Wales" calling for the pay situation to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

They said: “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.

"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."

Health Minister Eluned Morgan told ITV Wales the Welsh Government is "at the limits of the finances available".

Health Minister Morgan is reassuring people that "urgent and life-threatening care will continue to be provided during the strike action".

On the matter of pay restoration, she said the Welsh Government "would like to address" junior doctors' "pay ambitions".

But she added: "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."

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