Junior doctors begin 72-hour full walkout over pay
Junior doctors across Wales are starting a three-day walkout over pay as the Welsh Government and hospital leaders warned of the pressures health services are under.
The strike begins at 7am on Monday and lasts until 7am on Thursday and could see over 3,000 doctors taking industrial action.
The Welsh NHS Confederation, which represents health boards in Wales, the industrial action was taking place on one of the “most pressurised weeks of the year, following recent weeks of significant winter pressures”.
While health minister Eluned Morgan warned the impact on services was expected to be significant but said urgent and life-threatening care would continue.
The doctors’ trade union, BMA Cymru Wales, said the vote to strike was taken as part of a pay restoration campaign which they say has been eroded by almost a third since 2008/9.
The union said doctors would be present at picket lines outside all of Wales’ main hospital sites as well as taking their concerns to members of the Senedd with a planned mass demonstration on Tuesday.
The Welsh junior doctors committee made the decision to ballot members in August after being offered a 5% deal by the Welsh Government.
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.
“A doctor starting their career in Wales will earn as little as £13.65 an hour and for that they could be performing lifesaving procedures and taking on huge levels of responsibility.
“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.
“This is not a decision that has been made lightly. No doctor wants to take industrial action, but we have been given no choice.
“Doctors are already voting with their feet and leaving the NHS and we are in a vicious cycle of crippling staffing shortages and worsening patient care.”
The health minister said pay restoration for junior doctors in Wales was impossible without a significant increase in funding from the UK Government.
“We are disappointed junior doctors have voted for industrial action, but we understand the strength of feeling among BMA members,” Ms Morgan said.
“We would like to address their pay restoration ambitions, but 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.
“The UK Government has failed, over the last 13 years, to properly fund public services.
“The Welsh Government’s budget in 2024 to 2025 would be £3 billion higher if it had grown in line with the economy since 2010.
“Because of the recent inflation shock, our settlement next year is worth up to £1.3 billion less in real terms than expected when it was first set in 2021.”
Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “It’s a concern for NHS leaders that this industrial action will be taking place on one of the most pressurised weeks of the year, following recent weeks of significant winter pressures.
“Inevitably there will be a knock-on effect on the NHS’s capacity to perform the balancing act of winter pressures versus making inroads into the elective backlog.
“Staff and managers have therefore been undertaking significant contingency planning to prepare for the industrial action, including working hard to fill rota gaps and rearrange existing non-urgent appointments and operations.
“NHS leaders know staff do not take the decision to strike lightly, as we all know the impact it has on patients and colleagues.
“The focus is now on mitigating risks as far as possible.”
Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “Junior doctors have seen their pay eroded continuously and is nearly a third less in real terms today than what it was fifteen years ago. The NHS is nothing without its dedicated workforce, and that workforce deserves to be renumerated properly and to have the right working environment in order to provide the best care that they can. With inflation still running at nearly 6%, a 5% pay offer is another cut in real terms and it’s no surprise that BMA members have decided to take action.
“The decision to take industrial action is not one that they will have taken lightly, and it’s such a profound disappointment to see a Labour Government in Wales failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation as strikes begin today for three days.
“The elephant in the room is that Wales is not fairly funded, meaning we’re unable to pay our public sector workers what they deserve. Plaid Cymru is the only party making this call – to invest in our NHS, and to ensure we are not reliant on decisions made in England.”
Accusing the Welsh Government of offering the “worst pay offer in the UK”, Russell George, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister said: “The people of Wales will share my frustration at the severe disruption caused by strike action in Labour-run Wales when we already have the longest waits for treatment in the UK.
“In Conservative-run England, junior doctors have been offered a pay rise over double that of Labour-run Wales’ – Labour have consistently put the worst offer in the UK on the table.
“The Welsh Conservatives would spend the full Barnett uplift received for health on health. Labour need to get round the table and at least match the independent pay review body recommendation, which Labour ministers have so far failed to.”
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