Well paid doctors have “gone too far” by voting not to treat anyone with a non-urgent condition for 24 hours next month, a senior politician has said.
DUP MLA Jim Wells, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee, said he believes the public will not support the industrial action being taken by doctors in Northern Ireland.
“Doctors receive a salary that reflects their expertise and dedication — but it is worth noting that the average GP salary is £91,000, which is substantially more than most other people earn,” he said.
“I think people do support doctors generally, but I think they may have gone too far on this occasion.”
It will be the first time in almost 40 years that doctors have taken industrial action.
The British Medical Association (BMA) voted in favour of UK-wide action — scheduled for June 21 — in a row over proposed changes to the NHS pension.
Hospitals and GP surgeries across Northern Ireland will be affected, although doctors’ leaders have stressed patient safety will not be compromised.
All planned surgical procedures, non-essential diagnostic tests, and appointments with consultants and GPs that are not urgent will be cancelled for the day.
BMA leaders said the union will work with health service managers to ensure patients affected by the action will receive as much notice as possible.
Chair of the BMA (NI) Council Dr Paul Darragh said it is regrettable that doctors felt they had no option but to vote for industrial action. “I am very disappointed we have got to the stage where we felt we were forced to take industrial action for the first time in almost 40 years.
“However, 50% of those eligible to vote gave us a clear message that they were in favour of industrial action.
“This is a clear mandate and a clear message to Government that a more fair way forward needs to be found.”
Health Minister Edwin Poots said that he respects that it is within the rights of any trade union member to take lawful industrial action.
“My main concern lies with those needing medical care,” he said.
“I shall want assurances from the BMA that it is true to its word, that if care could not be postponed safely, it would not be postponed at all.”
The last time doctors took action was in 1975 when consultants worked to rule over a contractual dispute. Junior doctors also worked to a 40-hour week because of dissatisfaction with contract negotiations. Since then, industrial action has been raised as a possibility — but no dispute has reached the point where a ballot was deemed necessary.