Northern Ireland

Junior doctors strike: NI doctors want new contract ruled out

Hospital doctor
Image caption Junior doctors in England will stage a 24-hour strike on Tuesday and their colleagues in Northern Ireland say they are concerned the same contract could be imposed on them

Northern Ireland's junior doctors have called on Stormont's health minister to say a new contract that led to a strike in England will not be imposed locally.

Doctors in England are to strike for 24 hours from 08:00 GMT on Tuesday.

They object to proposals including new weekend pay rates and changes they say could lead to doctors being overworked.

Scotland and Wales are sticking to their existing contracts, but no final decision has been made in Northern Ireland.

'Really concerned'

The dispute between junior doctors and the government has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the new contract in England.

The British Medical Association (BMA) responded by calling a series of strikes.

Last November, Stormont's Health minister Simon Hamilton said he has sympathy with the Westminster government's desire to create a seven-day NHS but said imposing a contract would be "the worst possible outcome".

However, junior doctors in Northern Ireland have called on him to come off the fence and explicitly rule out the contract.

Dr Michael Moran said many local junior doctors were already actively seeking work elsewhere as they fear the new contract will eventually be imposed in Northern Ireland.

"We're really, really concerned about what's happening in England, both from their point of view and also because we feel that we're going to be next," he said.

Image caption Dr Michael Moran said junior doctors in Northern Ireland were most concerned about changes to their working hours and the risk to patient safety

"Pay is tied up in the bigger picture here, but what we're worried about is extending our normal working hours, making a smaller group of doctors work harder for the same money," he added.

'I can't let that happen': Case study of a junior doctor

Marie-Louise Connolly, Health Correspondent

Despite qualifying in 1999, Sandra McAllister is still regarded as a junior doctor.

Currently a registrar in plastic surgery at the Ulster Hospital, Dr McAllister said imposing the proposed contract would be would be like turning the clock back.

"Back then, the government was prepared to let me work 117 hours a week while caring for extremely ill patients.

"I was so tired working continuous nights, it was not good for me and it was not good for anyone.

"As an older doctor, I simply can't stand back and let that happen."

While Dr McAllister accepts progress has been made in the most recent negotiations, terms and conditions around unsociable and excessive working have not yet been clarified.

"We have not been given sufficient reassurance that this contract provides a robust mechanism for monitoring hours worked and preventing us from working excessive hours," she said.

"That protection needs to be put in place."

"We're not really sure yet what's happening with the pay but we're more concerned about removal of safeguards, which makes for a tired workforce who are de-motivated.

"People may leave Northern Ireland and then the patients here are really going to be in trouble."

Ahead of the strike in England, Prime Minster David Cameron urged junior doctors to call off their planned protest, saying the walk-out was "not necessary" and would damage patient services.

Emergency care in England will be staffed during the strike but an estimated 4,000 scheduled operations and procedures will be cancelled.

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