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Junior doctor strike in Wales leads to numerous canceled operations

In anticipation of a three-day strike by junior doctors in Wales, a health board has deferred 80% of scheduled operations.

Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) deemed the strike a last-ditch effort to prevent further departures caused by declining pay.

Dr. Emily Sams highlighted the disparity, noting that they were offered less than their counterparts in England and Scotland, implying that they “don’t need to go halfway around the world to Australia for better pay”.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan assured the public that essential and life-threatening care would persist despite the strike.

“We are disappointed junior doctors have voted for industrial action, but we understand the strength of feeling among BMA members,” said Ms Morgan. 

“We would like to address their pay restoration ambitions, but the pay award offer we have made is at the limits of the finances available to us and reflects the position reached with the other unions. 

“We continue to press the UK government to pass on the funding necessary to provide full and fair pay rises for public sector workers.”

Ms. Morgan urged individuals requiring emergency department services to proceed during the strike, suggesting alternatives such as the 111 online or phone service and local pharmacies for those considering their best options. In Wales, approximately 4,000 junior doctors, constituting 40% of the total medical workforce, are predominantly stationed in hospitals. A significant impact on planned services is anticipated, particularly for the Cardiff and Vale health board, responsible for a considerable share of specialized treatments like neurosurgery and transplants.

As a result, a substantial portion of outpatient appointments (75%) and operations (80%) is expected to be postponed, allowing senior staff to cover shifts continuously. The three-day strike by the BMA in Wales, scheduled from 07:00 GMT on Monday, January 15, until 07:00 the following Thursday, revolves around a pay dispute. Despite a 5% increase granted by the Welsh government, falling short of the recommended 6% by the independent remuneration body, junior doctors remain dissatisfied.

Comparatively, junior doctors in England have received an 8.8% raise, with an additional 3% offer rejected. In Scotland, an improved offer of 12.4% has been accepted, while a ballot is planned in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Sams, a general surgical trainee and BMA Wales representative, revealed that of her colleagues graduating seven years ago, 10 have relocated to Australia, initially planning short stays but deferring return plans due to the persistent pay disparity.

In 2023, the spotlight was on the industrial action of junior doctors in England, marked by six days of strikes at the beginning of the year. However, this marks the inaugural instance of their counterparts in Wales participating in picket line demonstrations. The term “junior doctor” encompasses individuals who have graduated from medical school but have not yet achieved consultant status, and this category may include doctors with nine years or more of experience.