Junior doctors open to offer

by Jennifer Trueland

Improving pay not a priority for the Government as strike continues in Northern Ireland

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Wednesday 22 May 2024
ni juniors strike 22 may 2024

Junior doctors in Northern Ireland have said they are willing to discuss ‘any credible pay offer’ as they continue in their latest strike action.

The second full walk-out in the campaign for pay restoration will end on Friday morning. Another is planned for June.

Fiona Griffin, chair of the BMA Northern Ireland junior doctors committee, told The Doctor demonstrations had been well-attended – and that doctors had had enough.

‘We’ve had lots of support from doctors and also from members of the public – people in cars have been tooting their horns and passers-by have also said they support what we are doing.

‘We know that strikes cause disruption, but we are doing this because we are trying to improve recruitment and retention of doctors, so that in five years’ time, the health service isn’t any worse than it is now – we can’t promise it will be better, but if things continue as they are, we’ll have hardly any doctors left.

ni junior doctors strike 22 may 2024 Junior doctors on strike over pay

‘We’re keen to sit down and negotiate over any credible offer, and we would be prepared to call off strike action. But we’ve been left with no choice.’

Earlier, Dr Griffin said doctors didn’t want to have to escalate industrial action, but that their ask around pay, including a commitment to work towards full pay restoration, was rejected by the health minister.

‘We have met with the minister, but there was absolutely no movement from him in terms of our asks around pay. Our mandate is for better pay for junior doctors but it is clear that improving pay for junior doctors is not a priority. Contract reform while welcome is not addressing the core issue. Paying us what the DDRB recommended last year is the minimum that they can do, and it is also lamentable that it has not yet been paid, a full year after the recommendation was made.’

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland said health and care trusts would work to mitigate the effect on patients, but that significant disruption was expected on the two strike days and over the following days.

‘The department stands ready to continue discussions with the junior doctors committee and does not accept that talks have “collapsed”,’ a spokesperson said. ‘There are important issues of substance to be progressed, including reform of the current junior doctor contract in Northern Ireland. The department has offered a process of independent arbitration, but this has not been taken up to date.’


National issue

The spokesperson added that the recommendations of the DDRB for 2023-24 (the last financial year) had now been implemented and that doctors would receive the award in June’s pay run. This would bring an average pay rise of 9.07 per cent for junior doctors.

‘The department cannot resolve the BMA demand for pay restoration – for a pay settlement that reverses public sector pay limits over the past decade and more,’ the spokesperson said. ‘That’s an issue that has impacted public sector employees across the UK as a result of UK Government policy. It is a national issue that cannot be resolved locally.’

juniors' strike pay 2024 may Juniors strike for fair pay

Dr Griffin said that there was a willingness elsewhere in the UK to discuss pay and move to pay restoration, which showed it could be done. ‘This strike and the next one in June do not need to happen,’ Dr Griffin said. ‘It can be called off today if a credible offer was put forward that included steps towards full pay restoration.’

The walk-out – which will see junior doctors withdraw their labour in hospitals and GP practices across Northern Ireland – is due to end at 7am on Friday 24 May. The next strike is expected to take place from 6-8 June. It follows the first strike action in March, after doctors voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action for full pay restoration.

According to BMA figures, junior doctor pay has eroded by more than 30 per cent in Northern Ireland since 2008.