Now the hard work begins

As junior doctors in Northern Ireland prepare to vote on industrial action, we need your help, writes NIJDC chair Fiona Griffin

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Monday 9 October 2023

It has been over a week since we announced our ballot of junior doctors on pay, and it is clear from the feedback we have received that this was the right decision. We were overwhelmed by the messages of support we got from members and the number of new followers on BMA social media.

You will have seen that the Northern Ireland consultants committee has also announced it will be balloting our consultant colleagues for industrial action over pay and over their working conditions. It is clear that doctors of all grades no longer feel valued and have reached their limit of tolerating years of inaction by employers, the Department of Health, devolved government and Westminster.

The tipping point

This frustration was spelt out in detail within our survey:

  • Almost 90% of the 899 respondents said they felt they were not paid fairly, while over 90% said they would be more likely to stay in training in Northern Ireland if their pay was higher.
  • 72% of you said you were now more likely to leave training because of the low pay, with 61% disagreeing that you were paid fairly for the work you do.
  • 68% of you strongly agreed that workload pressures affect the ability to receive on-the-job training needed for career progression.
  • 35% of you reported frequently having to miss training sessions in the past six months, while only 5% strongly agreed that the quality of training was good.

You were asked to give your thoughts on pay and conditions in Northern Ireland. The feedback was sobering but not surprising:

‘I frequently am not able to take breaks during the working day especially during my out of hours. I’m constantly being bleeped and can’t take my break. I have had 12hr shifts where I have only spent 20 mins off the ward all day. I wish our breaks could be more protected like nurses.’

‘Words can’t describe the state of healthcare professionals’ working conditions which thrive on the guilt and kindness of its staff to remain upright – if it wasn’t for staying late / covering shifts / going above and beyond while not being paid for it, people would die.’

‘I feel the training I have received in my first two years as a doctor has been basically non-existent. I feel I am self-teaching. I have been in two surgical jobs and have not had the opportunity to attend theatre once. I am planning to relocate to Australia to gain training opportunities that are not available in NI.’

I frequently question why I worked so hard to obtain a job I’m treated so poorly in.

‘I’m leaving training. Every doctor I have worked with in the last 6 months has gone to Australia / New Zealand or Southern Ireland to work and all are getting significantly better pay and conditions. We are paid less than our UK counterparts and conditions are worse!’

What’s next?

Now the hard work really begins. NIJDC (Northern Ireland junior doctors committee) is currently working to plan the next steps towards our ballot and it is important to be clear on what is required to get ballot-ready and how long this will take.

The ballpark aim is to have a ballot in the first quarter of 2024. However, there is time-consuming but important work that must be done in the background before any ballot date can be announced.

As part of this we must all do our bit to encourage as many non-members as possible to join the BMA. Only members will be able to vote in the ballot and an overwhelming YES vote will send the strongest possible message to those in power that we will not and cannot continue with the way things are any more. So, make sure to ask your friends and colleagues if they are members and encourage them to join up!

It is also critically important that existing members make sure their details are up to date; the actual ballot will be a paper ballot by post, so we will need the right address to send it to. Check and update your details here.

While we still remain hopeful that the Department of Health will agree to our asks, we are resolute that nothing less than a substantial, above-inflation pay rise and full pay restoration will call off any ballot for industrial action.

This process will be marathon, not a sprint, and we are in it for the long haul.

Fiona Griffin is chair of the Northern Ireland junior doctors committee