Pay award delay another blow to doctors’ morale

by BMA Northern Ireland media team

Press release from BMA Northern Ireland 

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Wednesday 31 August 2022
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Doctors in Northern Ireland have said that this years planned pay award is making them consider leaving the health service, either by working elsewhere or by retiring earlier than planned.

In a BMA NI survey of more than 1000 doctors working in Northern Ireland, 85% of respondents said the proposed uplift of 4.5% was ‘too low’, with discontent particularly high among junior doctors with 93% of them saying it was too low. 

With morale in the health service at an all-time low, the lack of financial recognition is another blow with 81% of respondents saying they did not feel the award valued doctors. Of particular concern was the inability to actually make the pay the award due to the lack of an Assembly and Executive here, with 89% of respondents saying the inability to apply the uplift had decreased or significantly decreased their morale.

Staffing and the lack of doctors is one of the key issues affecting the Northern Ireland health service and this years planned pay award is unlikely to solve the problem; when asked about their intentions as to the likelihood of them continuing to work in Northern Ireland junior doctors said they were now more likely to leave because of the low pay award. This was more than other branches of practice, with 72% of junior doctor respondents either “more likely to leave” or “much more likely to leave.” However over 55.71% of consultants, 53.26% of SAS doctors and 52.57% of GPs also said the inability to make the award made them more likely or much more likely to leave the health service.

40% of junior doctors also said the proposed pay award made them more likely to seek work outside of Northern Ireland. 28% of consultants said they now intended to reduce their hours and 18% of consultants and 20% of GPs said they now intended to retire earlier than planned.

Speaking about the results, Dr Tom Black BMA NI Council chair said, “These are very stark figures. The level of dissatisfaction, low morale and burnout among doctors is probably higher than I have ever seen it. We are doing our best to meet the needs of patients but are under pressure from all sides and a low pay award combined with an inability to actually get the award paid is another blow.

“This is a real terms pay cut on top of many years of pay erosion. Working as a doctor is becoming increasingly unappealing with rising patient numbers, but complete stasis in terms of transforming our health service and addressing many of the issues it is facing.

“We cannot afford to have our younger doctors leave for other countries or our more experienced doctors leave early. Of the medical students who responded to the survey 28% said below inflation pay rises meant they would seek work outside of the UK, only 7% said they would want to work here regardless. That is extremely worrying.”

Asked about their willingness to take industrial action over 50% of respondents indicated they would be willing to take some form of IA that impacts on services to patients with junior doctors most likely to take action.

  • Consultants: 59.66%
  • SAS: 57.78%
  • Junior doctors: 77.64%

Dr Black added, “Our health system is broken and is essentially running on goodwill. We need to take action to improve the working lives of doctors and pay is one element of that. Unfortunately the working lives of doctors have become more stressful due to waiting lists, excessive workloads, staff shortages, inadequate funding, unfair pension rules and pay. Doctors are now considering a choice between emigration, resignation or retirement.

“Our committees will now be looking at what action their members are willing to take. We are clear that we will not put up with this situation and that we need to see change on the ground before it’s too late.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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