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Doctors, nurses and dentists could all strike over pay and conditions

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Dr Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland Council

Dr Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland Council

Dr Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland Council

Northern Ireland’s crumbling health service could be facing strike action by doctors, nurses and dentists amid deepening anger over pay and conditions.

Dr Tom Black, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Northern Ireland Council, said he cannot rule out the possibility that junior doctors and consultants could stage industrial action in the coming weeks or months.

Meanwhile, it is looking increasingly likely the the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) could ballot is members on industrial action in light of the latest pay rise announcements for NHS staff.

There is also growing unrest among NHS dentists here as they continue to work under Covid-19 mitigations whilst also absorbing the rising cost of running the vital service.

On Tuesday, the Government announced it had accepted recommendations in full from the independent NHS pay review bodies.

The figures were roundly rejected by health unions as inadequate.

Despite this, Health Minister Robin Swann said on Wednesday he had accepted the recommendations.

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However, in a further blow to healthcare workers, he said he can’t announce the immediate implementation of the pay award because of a lack of an Executive.

This could lead to a break in pay parity with the rest of the UK — one of the key drivers for crippling strike action by NHS employees in Northern Ireland in 2019 and 2020.

Dr Black said: “The first thing is, this isn’t a pay rise for doctors, it is a 5% pay cut.

“We don’t want to sound ungrateful, we know the economic situation is very difficult, but doctors in Northern Ireland have had a 30% pay cut going back to 2008.

“The reason for that was austerity and we were told we had to take our share of the pain and this continued throughout Covid. I don’t expect the public to care about doctors’ pay packets, but the BMA is also a professional organisation and as such we are concerned about patient safety.

“Doctors in Northern Ireland are worse off financially than their counterparts in the rest of the UK and so we struggle when it comes to attracting and retaining doctors who are going to other countries to work.

“The public has to realise that if we want a good service, we need staff, and if we aren’t paying the going rate for staff, we won’t fill vacancies.”

Rita Devlin, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said it is “unthinkable” that pay parity may be broken once again.

She said: “Our elected representatives must act now to ensure this doesn’t happen. There have been years of underpayment and staff shortages — if we don’t pay staff properly, the exodus from our health service will continue and patient care will suffer as a result.”


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