Healthcare Workers are Gething Nothing 

As Vaughan Gething, the controversial new First Minister for Wales and former Welsh Health Minister, was officially inaugurated last week junior doctors for the NHS prepared to raise up banners and take to the picket lines. This is the third round of strike action that has occurred over the same issue – restoration of pay parity with their colleagues in England and Scotland. 

The strike, which began on Monday and ends tomorrow (Friday 29th), was supported by over 98% of junior doctors who voted on taking strike action in December of last year and will see thousands of healthcare professionals take to the picket lines for 96 hours. It is estimated that the cost of the strike will be up to £1 million loss for the NHS per-day. 

This will be the longest strike by junior doctors in 2024, following the previous strike in January which lasted 72 hours and saw nearly four thousand taking strike action. At the time they rejected the Welsh Governments offer of a 5% pay rise, which would see them increase from £13.65 to £14.12 per hour – a staggering difference to what junior doctors in England are paid (£15.50).

Striking doctor, Deiniol Jones,  a member of the BMA’s Welsh Junior Doctor’s Committee, told me that the crux of the strike relates to how junior doctors have faced erosion of their total pay by nearly 30% since 2008. The last few years, in particular the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, has been a strain on those in the medical professional and driven the strikes from talk to action. 

Jones acknowledged that, yes, 80% of the budget is determined by Westminster. However, both Scotland and Ireland had secured strong pay rises, though in the case of Ireland less than what was hoped for. Furthermore, Jones stated that off-the-record conversations with the Welsh Government strongly hinted that there existed the means for the solution. The continuation of the strikes is due to a lack of will by Gething’s government;

“There is scope in there in terms of the various tax creating powers that they have to create different revenue. There’s a lot of different departments, there’s a lot of different projects, money could be moved – we don’t really accept it, there is money there. It’s just sorting out your priorities.” 

In a press release by the British Medical Association (BMA), Doctors Oba Babs-Osibodu and Peter Fahey for BMA Cymru Wales’ Junior Doctors Committee said;

“It’s extremely sad and frustrating that we find ourselves here again, our third strike and our longest yet. We don’t want to be in this position but again, faced with inaction, we are left with no choice… Junior doctors are starting their careers earning £13.65 an hour in Wales. Is that all they are worth? They are providing lifesaving care after training for years and are shouldering up to £100,000 of debt.”

On behalf of the Welsh Government, The Cabinet Secretary for Health & Social Care Eluned Morgan said that the government understands the “strength of feeling behind the 5% pay offer” but they cannot increase the offer “without additional funding from the UK Government” though they would press for that additional funding.

It is strongly expected that, with the Welsh Government refusing to meet the demands and the BMA unwilling to accept the low offer, a fourth round of strikes will occur.

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