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Doctors in Wales ready to vote on industrial action over pay

DOCTORS in Wales are on the brink of voting for industrial action over pay disputes. A potential strike would mark the first of its kind over pay issues in the nation.

Last month, after unsuccessful negotiations with the Welsh Government, the British Medical Association (BMA) Cymru Wales opted to ballot over strike action. This dispute represents the first time BMA Cymru Wales has been at odds over pay, with all secondary care doctors and GP trainees being asked to voice their opinion on industrial action.

BMA Cymru Wales entered a formal disagreement with the Welsh Government following the rejection of a “below-inflation” pay proposal. This offer, merely 5% for the 23/24 fiscal year, covered consultants, junior doctors, and SAS doctors. The union has expressed its intent to ballot its secondary care doctor members regarding this offer.

In contrast, junior doctors in England previously went on strike over a 6% pay offer. The English BMA has appealed for a 35% pay hike, targeting compensation rates from 2008. Scotland’s BMA approved an impressive 12.4% pay rise for junior doctors and dentists in training for 2023-2024, leading to a cumulative 17.5% increase over two years when combined with the previous year’s raise.

The Welsh Government voiced their disappointment over the possible strike action, citing limited finances and a need for more funds from the UK Government.

This offer from the Welsh Government lags behind others across the UK, even falling short of the DDRB’s (the pay review body for doctors and dentists) earlier recommendation. Some SAS doctors were offered a paltry 1.5%.

BMA Cymru Wales argued that the Welsh Government’s recent offer failed to address the erosion of pay over years, despite claims of commitment to restoring 2008 pay rates. Since 2009, UK doctors have faced a nearly 29% pay cut in real terms.

Dr. Iona Collins, Chair of BMA Cymru Wales, stressed the severity of the situation, noting that accepting the 5% offer could drive more doctors away from NHS Wales.

She said, “Despite our efforts to highlight the consequences of consistent pay cuts and dire working conditions, the Welsh Government’s best proposal is further erosion.”

The BMA’s Welsh committees highlighted the economic hardships faced by many of its members, especially junior doctors, with some even struggling to pay for basic necessities.

The sentiment among the medical community is unanimous. Newly-elected junior doctor committee co-chairs, Dr. Oba Babs-Osibodu and Dr. Peter Fahey, expressed their dissatisfaction with the decade-long pay cuts and underfunding.

Similarly, senior doctors, as pointed out by the Welsh consultants committee chair Dr. Stephen Kelly, are contemplating early retirement or relocation due to the unsatisfactory offer.

Dr. Ali Nazir, the Welsh SAS committee chair, lamented the government’s negligence towards the sacrifices made by doctors during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to feelings of demoralisation and burnout among the community.

With the unanimous decision across three BMA committees to ballot members on industrial action, the coming weeks could see a groundbreaking movement if members vote in favour of the national strike.

Meanwhile, GP contract discussions remain separate, with GPC Wales scheduled for negotiations in September.

In response, a Welsh Government spokesperson emphasised the financial constraints they face and their dependence on the UK Government for additional funding. They pledged to continue advocating for adequate funds to ensure equitable pay rises for public sector employees.