NHS Scotland strikes: Scottish junior doctors set for vote on strike action

Junior doctors are set to vote on strike action, following failed negotiations with the Scottish Government over a pay dispute.

The British Medical Association’s Scottish Junior Doctor Committee (SDJC) has voted to ballot trade union members on industrial action in the first quarter of next year, subject to approval from the BMA’s UK Council.

The Scottish Government’s pay offer of 4.5 per cent has been outstripped by a UK Inflation rate of around 10 per cent, meaning junior doctors are again facing a real-terms pay cut.

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According to the BMA, pay awards for junior doctors in Scotland from 2008/09 to 2021/22 delivered real terms pay cuts of 23.5 per cent for foundation year doctors and 23.9 per cent for specialty registrars.

A junior doctor speaks to an elderly patient

Dr Chris Smith, chair of the BMA’s SJDC, said: “Years and years of being under-valued and under-appreciated has led us to this point. I want to be absolutely clear that we did not reach this decision rashly. We do this reluctantly.

“We have given the Scottish Government plenty of opportunities to rethink this year’s pay award, which is, frankly, unacceptable under the current circumstances, and commit to entering into meaningful negotiations on restoring junior doctor pay to 2008 levels. They have given us no confidence this will happen, and so we find ourselves forced to push forward with our plan to seek approval to ballot our Scottish junior doctor members on strike action.

“Since 2008, the take home pay of doctors has been cut by almost a quarter – 23.5 per cent to be exact. As demand for NHS services soared, the amount that successive governments were willing to compensate the staff providing them plummeted. Enough is enough.

“We were clear with the Cabinet secretary for health and his team that junior doctors had reached a tipping point. We have consistently been told there is nothing that can be done, that there is no money – and yet we see ‘record pay offers’ being made to other NHS colleagues when they lay down the gauntlet.

“No-one who enters medical school is driven purely by financial reward. We want what’s best for the public and our patients. But right now we can see that, without halting the burnout, demoralisation and resulting exodus of talented and compassionate staff, we will not be able to provide that care for much longer.

“As the health service limps through the end of a pandemic that it entered already at breaking point, junior doctors are being asked to do more and more. We are burning out and struggling to afford our rent, our heating bills and – in some cases – our meals, in the process. Some first-year junior doctors in Scotland – FY1s – making life or death decisions and staffing wards across the country, earn a basic salary that equates to approximately £14 an hour. After years at university, some incurring huge debts, that is simply not good enough.

“That is why, in many ways, pay restoration is the quick fix for the Government. It will take years to fix staffing issues, because it takes years to train doctors. You cannot fix wellbeing and workplace culture overnight either, but by committing to paying your workers more, what they deserve for doing a job that is so invaluable, you are showing them that you value them. They are appreciated. They are recognised.

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"Right now, the junior doctor workforce does not feel appreciated or valued. They are exhausted, demoralised and carrying the moral injury of constantly having to apologise for the buckling system they are so desperately trying to hold up.”

Dr Smith added: “Junior doctors will leave the NHS in Scotland for better pay, better conditions, and better work life balance in places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada if urgent action is not taken by our Government. I implore the Scottish Government to finally hear our words and act.”

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