Politics

Thousands of junior doctors in Wales have begun a four-day walkout – their longest yet – in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

A wet morning in Cardiff was not enough to dampen the resolve of the medics calling for their pay to be restored to previous levels.

At the heart of their calls is a warning that the NHS in Wales is losing medical professionals “in their droves”.

Co-chair of the British Medical Association’s Welsh junior doctors committee Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu also told Sky News that doctors were “refusing to come [to Wales], and that’s because of poor pay”.

Image:
Dr Oba Babs-Osibodu

“We’ve lost 29.6% of our pay over the last 15 years, so almost a third. And our work hasn’t got easier, it’s getting harder actually,” he said.

The Welsh government last year offered a pay rise of 5% but the union says the below-inflation offer is the worst in the UK.

More than 3,000 doctors are set to take industrial action during the 96-hour walkout, with appointments at hospitals and GPs set to be postponed across the country.

More on Cardiff

The strike started at 7am on Monday and will last until 7am on Friday.

‘Concerns about paying my bills’

Dr Lucy Hall is one of the junior doctors joining the protest outside the University Hospital of Wales – the largest of Wales’s hospitals.

She told Sky News that current salary levels were leaving her concerned about paying bills.

“Practically, it means that concerns about paying my bills are a bit too much at the forefront of my mind while I’m in work, but on top of that, we’re struggling to retain our staff,” she said.

“So doctors are leaving. We’re hemorrhaging them as such to other places where they can be paid more, or other professions where they can be paid more.”

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Dr Lucy Hall

Dr Hall said staff rotas were “underfilled” and had “lots of gaps”.

“That means that patient care does suffer as a result of that because you just haven’t got the people to do the job,” she added.

‘Doctors are exhausted’

Dr Deiniol Jones, a public health registrar at Public Health Wales, told Sky News that the situation in the Welsh NHS is “very challenging”.

“Doctors are exhausted. There are not enough doctors at the moment, doctors are leaving the whole time. And we can’t provide the level of care that we want. And that’s being driven by low pay and poor working conditions,” he said.

“I don’t feel very well-valued and I don’t feel that the pay really reflects the skills and the training that I have, and the difficulty of the work we undertake.”

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Dr Deiniol Jones

Dr Jones added that those on strike would “much rather be working and helping our patients”.

“But we have to do something about the situation and the hope is that this forces the Welsh government to come back with a fair offer and once we get that fair offer we can stop striking.”

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The message to new first minister Vaughan Gething from the BMA is that “this isn’t going to go away”.

“We’ve never been this united before, I’ve never seen the resolve of doctors this strong before,” Dr Babs-Osibodu added.

“And we’ll keep striking and striking and striking. We know this is costing the Welsh government millions of pounds, they need to come to the table with something credible.”

Image:
The University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

‘Disappointing’

Cabinet secretary for health and social care Eluned Morgan said it was “disappointing” that doctors in Wales were taking further industrial action.

Ms Morgan said the government understood “the strength of feeling about the 5% pay offer”.

“While we wish to address pay restoration ambitions, our offer is at the limits of the finances available to us at present and reflects the position reached with the other health unions for this year,” she added.

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The Welsh health secretary also said the government would continue to press Westminster for extra funding.

But the Conservatives – the Senedd‘s largest opposition group – say the blame for the “unprecedented” strikes “lies squarely at the door” of the Welsh government.

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