Junior doctors in Northern Ireland to join rally against 'dangerous' changes to NHS contracts
Hundreds of junior doctors, medical students and nurses across Northern Ireland are being urged to attend a Belfast rally against controversial changes to a Government contract they warn will endanger lives.
The October 17 protest will coincide with a major rally in London. The plans come as the British Medical Association (BMA) prepares to ballot members for strike action. Only junior doctors in England are affected, as both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have promised to maintain the existing contract. However, a final decision has yet to be taken by Stormont amid political turmoil.
The Government plans to impose the new contract on doctors, up to consultant level, next year.
The contract will reclassify doctors' normal working week to include Saturdays and up to 10pm every night except Sunday.
The BMA believes that the proposed reforms are "unsafe and unfair" and will cut junior doctors' pay by up to a third by removing pay boosts for working evenings and Saturdays. The organisers of the rally that includes junior doctors from across Northern Ireland said the new contract removed the safeguards put in place to prevent junior doctors working excessive hours and "becoming tired, ineffective and dangerous".
It added: "As a group of professionals we swore an oath to make the care of our patients our first concern and we will not accept any changes that will have a negative impact on the safety of our patients.
"The NI Executive have not yet made a decision on whether to impose the contract or not.
"We will make our voices heard and stand in solidarity with our colleagues in London."
Among those who will attend is Dr Ruth McGonagle (24), a foundation year two junior doctor based in Belfast's Mater Hospital.
"There are about 1,500 junior doctors in Northern Ireland," she said. "I think a lot of people don't realise what that is or how many people are affected.
"A junior doctor is anyone who graduated from university in August to your most senior doctor the day before they become a consultant. So they are anyone from age 24 until they complete their training which could be 12 years."
She added: "Doctors are like anyone else, the more tired you are the more mistakes you will make.
"It is not good enough to have someone who is overworked and exhausted making life-or-death decisions."
Dr McGonagle added that the major worries were not pay-based and that the new contract could lead to more doctors leaving the UK to work abroad.
"The main problem is safety," she said. "What this is likely to do is encourage more doctors to leave and work elsewhere like Australia.
"There already is a recruitment crisis and this could result in it being even worse."