A senior DUP member has been accused of getting his facts wrong in a row over pay rises for dentists and doctors announced by the Health Minister earlier this week.
Jim Wells, chair of the Stormont health committee, criticised the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey for his decision to award pay rises to some doctors — claiming it was a “scandal” to increase salaries for doctors and dentists while nurses and other health service employees face a pay freeze.
It is the latest row between the DUP and Mr McGimpsey, who has clashed with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and former MP Iris Robinson over his budget on numerous occasions.
Mr Wells said: “Michael McGimpsey will have to explain to the public why he thinks it is acceptable that nurses should be ordered to accept a pay freeze whilst at the same time he is increasing the amount paid to doctors and dentists. He will also have to explain on a very fundamental level just how this represents good use of precious resources.”
However, Mr McGimpsey hit back at the comments: “I will not be lectured by Jim Wells when it comes to scarce resources for the health service. The public should remember that the DUP voted three times for cuts to my budget.”
Mr McGimpsey said the pay rises he announced this week were as a result of UK-wide recommendations made before the announcement regarding job freezes for public sector workers.
He continued: “The highest earners, consultants, received no increase in their basic salaries. Pay awards have been made in areas where they are most needed to ensure the health service continues to run efficiently such as at house officer and middle grade doctor level.
“Mr Wells should check his facts — in the case of nurses and other health service workers, they received a 2.25% increase in salary with effect from April 1, 2010.
“This pay award was agreed as part of a three-year pay deal and this is the final year of that pay deal.
“Pay awards for nurses come under the remit of the NHS Pay Review Body.
“Mr Wells is well aware of the issues around recruiting and retaining medical staff in Northern Ireland. If our counterparts in the rest of the UK implement this pay award, we in Northern Ireland have no other option but to do the same.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has also rejected the claims made by Mr Wells.
Dr Paul Darragh, chairman of the BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: “Doctors are disappointed and disheartened by the tenor of Mr Wells’ comments. He seems to have a misunderstanding of the process.
“Doctors are bound, in common with nurses and other public sector workers, by the pay freezes of the next two years.
“What was announced by Minister McGimpsey was a delayed response by the Assembly to a proposal by a UK-wide independent committee, the DDRB, earlier this year.
“We are led to believe that part of the delay was due to the Department of Finance and Personnel.
“The award made to our junior doctors in Northern Ireland is below inflation.”