Junior doctors in Wales go on 72-hour strike

Nearly four thousand junior doctors were working in Wales as of June 2023. The strikes saw over three thousand of them withdraw their labour from hospitals and GP surgeries across the country.

The pickets at the University Hospital of Wales had passing cars sounding their horns in support for the junior doctors striking in the rain.

But there has also been public backlash for the disruptions caused to healthcare. Some patients had to have their elective surgeries and clinic appointments cancelled due to the strike action.

Some junior doctors say such delays already happen regularly. With long waiting lists and understaffed rotas, NHS services are under immense pressure.

Caitlin Ireland is a junior doctor in Swansea who came to support the pickets in Cardiff. She started working during the pandemic and says the situation has gotten worse since.

“A&E waits are a lot longer. People are staying in beds waiting for social care longer. But also a lot of elective work is being cancelled on the regular. So even though things have had to be cancelled for the strikes, this is happening every day regardless.”

Rachel Kerr, a sexual and reproductive health doctor for NHS Wales, says junior doctors wanted to avoid going on strike but decided it was necessary.

“It is safe on the wards, it’s safe in the hospital. They have consultants covering our usual roles. They have specialty doctors covering our roles as well, so it is going to maintain safety. We do need the strike to have some sort of impact for it to be an effective strike.”

According to the British Medical Association, junior doctors’ salaries have been reduced by almost a third in real terms over the last 15 years. Junior doctors in Wales are starting their career earning £13.65 an hour, based on a 40-hour week.

The Welsh government has given junior doctors a below-inflation pay offer of 5%—the lowest in the UK. They say without additional funding from the UK government, they are not in a position to offer more.

Many NHS workers have left due to difficult working conditions and inadequate compensation. Junior doctors say healthcare services have gotten worse as a result.

“Longer term, if the Welsh government keep allowing the strikes to go ahead and keep eroding the pay, the situation and the service is just going to get worse and worse,” says Dr. Deiniol Jones, a junior doctor for Public Health Wales.

“We are going to keep losing doctors, and there will not be enough doctors to maintain a safe service anymore. It’ll be a very terrifying situation in the future.”

Junior doctors are prepared to keep striking, with a full 96-hour walkout planned in March. They say they remain open to negotiations if the Welsh government come to them with a good pay offer.