Consultants in Northern Ireland to be balloted for industrial action

by Ben Ireland

‘No alternative’ as talks break down and deal agreed in England

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Thursday 25 April 2024
Consultant in scrubs

Consultants in Northern Ireland are to be balloted on industrial action, the BMA has announced.

The five-week ballot will open on 7 May 2024 after talks between representatives from the BMA Northern Ireland consultants committee and the devolved Department of Health broke down.

Consultants had raised their concerns with the continuing erosion of their pay and the effect  this is having on consultant recruitment and retention in Northern Ireland, and the subsequent effect this has on patient care, and to seek a solution to these issues.

Consultants in Northern Ireland are still waiting for last year’s Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration-recommended 6 per cent uplift to be applied.

And with a new pay deal for consultants in England having been accepted, pay talks continuing in Scotland and Wales, and higher pay available for consultants working in the Republic of Ireland, BMA NI consultants committee chair David Farren said it was ‘imperative’ consultants in Northern Ireland do not fall further behind.

Last year, 77 per cent of respondents to a survey of BMA Northern Ireland consultant members said they were willing to take industrial action.

David Farren FARREN: Left with no alternative

Dr Farren said: ‘We really feel we have been left with no alternative but to strike. Morale is at an all-time low among consultants here; we do not feel valued for the complex, challenging and stressful work we undertake, and we do not deserve to be paid less than colleagues in the rest of the UK or Ireland for doing the same job.

‘In fact, given the crisis in our health service the job is arguably even harder here. It is imperative that we secure at least the same terms and conditions for consultants here.’

Dr Farren explained that the committee had held off moving to a full ballot in the hope progress could be made with a new Northern Ireland executive and health minister in place.

‘Unfortunately we have not been able to come to agreement with them,’ he added.

‘The minister has said that he will apply last years’ review body uplift of 6 per cent, but doctors are still waiting for that to be paid. We have been told it might be in the June pay run, just before the 2024-25 review body recommendation is made, so nearly a year late, all of which contributes to consultants feeling totally devalued.

‘We will now ballot consultants with a view to taking industrial action. This is not the action we had hoped we would have to take but we have been left with no other option.

‘If we don’t do something now to fix our pay, then what we will see is the continued loss of doctors from our health service and a system that will no longer be able to care for patients.’

The ballot for consultant members of the BMA in Northern Ireland is to open on Tuesday 7 May for five weeks, closing on Monday 10 June.