PATIENT care will not be jeopardised by industrial action today (Thursday), a Mid Ulster doctor has said.
The medical staff are set to strike in opposition to a Government-proposed increase in pension contributions and a later retirement age for doctors.
Across the UK up to 30,000 operations may have to be cancelled, 58,000 diagnostic tests postponed and 200,000 outpatient appointments rescheduled according to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
But Magherafelt resident Dr Paul Darragh, who works at both Antrim Hospital and the Mid Ulster Hospital, said doctors are undertaking the action - the profession’s first in 40 years - reluctantly and patient care remains their focus.
“We have been forced into this action reluctantly,” said Dr Darragh, Chair of the NI council of the British Medical Association (BMA).
“It is not about the size of our pensions, it is about the Government reneging on a promise to us after a deal made four years ago to ensure the sustainability of our pensions for the future.
“Patient care is our absolute priority.”
Dr Darragh, who has practised medicine for the past 28 years, said staff will be present at work as normal but only urgent and emergency procedures will be performed.
“Only things that can be safely postponed will be,” he said. “But emergency work will still be carried out so, for example, accident and emergency and labour wards will run as normal. And surgery deemed urgent will continue to be carried out. I would encourage anyone with an emergency to contact A and E or their local GP as normal.”
It is understood a number of practices in the Mid Ulster area are taking part in the industrial action which was voted for by the majority of doctors after a ballot of 104,000 members of the BMA.
In a letter to the head of the association earlier this month the Health Minister condemned the action.
“The adverse impact on patients of postponing and rescheduling these procedures will echo through the NHS long after the strike you are proposing,” he said.