GP surgeries will be open today and many operations will go ahead as planned — despite doctors taking part in UK-wide industrial action for the first time in a generation.
It is thought the action will have little impact on patients as all essential or emergency work will be carried out and anyone who needs to see their family doctor urgently will be seen.
Accident and emergency departments and labour wards will remain open as normal and the transfer of patients from the Erne Hospital to the new South West Acute Hospital will go ahead.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents the doctors taking the action across the UK, including Northern Ireland, said there will be no picket lines and doctors will attend their normal place of work in case they need to respond to an emergency.
Dr Peter Maguire, consultant anaesthetist at Daisy Hill Hospital and a BMA member, explained: “This action is symbolic.
“We regret that it has had to come to this point but we are anxious that disruptions to patients are kept to a minimum and certainly no patient should come to harm as a result.”
The action was announced last month after the BMA accused ministers at Westminster of pressing ahead with increases to pension contributions and a later retirement age for doctors despite a deal four years ago.
Dr Maguire continued: “All doctors are required to be in their usual place of work, there will be no picket lines, doctors will not be taking a day off because of this action. We gave notice of our intention for industrial action on May 30 and by law this must happen within four weeks.
“Hospital doctors have been working with the health trusts ever since to ensure minimal impact on patients. So, for example, anyone who is a red flag referral, which means they may have cancer, will be seen.
“If an appointment has been postponed then the patient should have been notified and will get a new appointment as soon as possible.”
Dr Maguire said while GPs are also taking part in the action, they will also treat anyone who believes they are unwell.
“If a patient thinks that they need to see a doctor then they will be seen,” he said.
“Obviously, patients who think they need to see their doctor because they need a form signed for their passport isn’t an emergency.”
Last night, Health Minister Edwin Poots attacked the fact that doctors are taking action over their pensions and said they will not have public support.
“There are plenty of other things they could be taking action over,” he said.
However, the largest public service union in Northern Ireland has lent its support to doctors.
Brian Campfield, Nipsa General Secretary, said: “The action, by a highly regarded group of public sector workers who are at the heart of the community, should encourage everyone who is suffering from the Government's vicious austerity programme to take an active part in the campaigns to stop the cuts.”
and to prevent any further harm being done to working people, their families and communities.
“This action will also let the millionaire cabinet know that the opposition to their austerity policies is intensifying.”
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.