Senior doctors in Wales to be balloted for industrial action in January
BMA Cymru Wales will ballot doctor members in Wales from Monday 22 January on whether they wish to take strike action over pay.
The ballots, which will be open to all BMA consultant and specialist, associate specialist and speciality (SAS) doctor members in Wales, are set to run concurrently for six weeks closing on 4 March.
The decision to ballot members comes after the BMA rejected the Welsh Government’s first and final pay offer for the 2023/24 financial year for those working in secondary care. For consultants and SAS doctors on closed contracts the offer was 5%; SAS doctors on more recent contracts received as little as 2.5%. This final offer left BMA Cymru Wales with no choice but to enter a trade dispute and ballot for strike action.
Gaps in the workforce
Over the last 15 years, consultants and SAS doctors in Wales have experienced a pay cut of almost a third since 2008/9. They received another sub-inflationary pay offer from the Welsh Government which is below even the recommendation made by the DDRB and is the worst offer in the UK.
Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales consultants committee, said: “Whilst no doctor wants to take industrial action, poor working conditions are driving senior doctors to retire early, reduce their hours or leave NHS Wales. All the while patients get sicker, and outcomes get worse.
“Significant gaps in the workforce are only making things worse. Investing in staff retention should be the Welsh Government’s number one priority when looking to improve NHS services and so quite simply we have run out of options.”
Welsh SAS committee deputy chair Dr Julie Jones said: “We are demoralised and burnt out. Day in day out we want to provide patients with the quality care they deserve, but huge staffing gaps are making this work impossible. We all deserve better than this.
“We want to serve our patients who are our top priority, but poor pay and even worse conditions have forced us to take this step.”
The ballots, which will run concurrently, will be open to consultant and SAS doctor members working in the Welsh NHS. On Monday 18 December junior doctors in Wales announced a huge majority of their members had voted for industrial action. A 72-hour full walkout from 15 January could see over 3,000 junior doctors withdraw their labour from Welsh hospitals and GP surgeries in pursuit of a what they term ‘a fairer deal for their service’.
Meanwhile contract negotiations between Welsh Government, NHS Wales and BMA Cymru Wales’s GP committee ended without resolution in October, leading to a stark warning on the future of General Practice from GP leaders. GPC Wales is now lobbying the Welsh Government for an urgent financial rescue package to save the service from collapse.
Welsh Government response
In response to the strike action set to take place on 18 January, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing that doctors have voted for industrial action but we understand their strength of feeling about the 5% pay offer.
“While we wish to address their pay restoration ambitions, our offer is at the limits of the finances available to us and reflects the position reached with the other health unions for this year. Without additional funding from the UK Government, we are not in a position to currently offer any more. We will continue to press them to pass on the funding necessary for full and fair pay rises for public sector workers.
“We remain committed to working in social partnership with the British Medical Association and NHS Employers and we will jointly ensure that patient safety is protected during industrial action.”
Responding to the vote, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, said: “Junior doctors have seen their pay eroded continuously and their pay 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.
“Junior Doctors in England are also in dispute which is having a detrimental effect on patients outcomes here in Wales too. The UK Government are refusing to respond positively because of their ideological crusade against public services and the common good.
“This is impacting on Wales. I urge the Labour Government to re-enter negotiations in good faith and not to leave any stone unturned in their endeavours to find a resolution that ensures that we retain the junior doctors that we have and attract more to work in the Welsh NHS, and for the UK Government to put aside their callous disregard for others and give junior doctors the pay they deserve.”
Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS said: “It is clear that the Labour Government’s has not done enough to avert the strikes that will be causing disruption after the busy Christmas period and inevitably beyond.
“Patients in Wales are already suffering from significant waiting times for treatment, in A&E and for ambulances. With news this morning that taxis are being used to replace ambulances in North Wales and Labour continuously missing their target of eliminating inhuman 2-year waits this disruption will act as a further setback as the winter pressures mount.
“I would suggest to Labour Ministers in the Senedd that they park their pet projects and spend the full Barnett consequential on the health budget, as for every £1 spent in England, Wales receives £1.20, yet Labour only spend £1.05 on the health service here in Wales.”
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