A LOCAL doctor has said that the "ball is in Robin Swann's court" when it comes to averting unprecedented strike action among junior doctors next month. 
Dr. Oisín Fearon, who works at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH), was speaking after 97.6 per cent of junior doctors in Northern Ireland voted in favour of the upcoming 24-hour walkout. 

This is despite the Health Minister, Robin Swann, questioning the merit of this industrial action in a letter to the British Medical Association (BMA). 

In the letter, Minister Swann said: "Frustration should not spill into industrial action that cannot achieve anything of substance."

He added that the industrial action "impact heavily on patients" at a time when "the Executive is starting the important work of stabilising public services".

However, Dr. Fearon - who is the Western Trust's representative for BMA’s Northern Ireland junior doctors committee - has urged Mr. Swann to put his opinion to one side and get around the negotiating table. 

"The ballot has come back fairly resounding, and we have a strong mandate," Dr. Fearon said.

"We have always given the option of not striking, but as we haven't gotten a satisfactory resolution, we feel we have no choice. 

"I must reiterate that no one wants to go on strike. We would be more than happy to avoid this, even if it's at the 11th hour. 

"The ball is in Robin Swann's court. There is still time for this to be averted. Our doors are still open."

The upcoming strike, which is to take place over 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday of next week, marks the first ever time junior doctors have taken to the picket lines in Northern Ireland. 

Dr. Fearon said that this will be an "historic moment".

"This is the first-ever ballot, and the first-ever time we will go on strike," he said. "In many ways this a historic moment.

"This said, it's sad that things have reached a point when we feel we have no alternative but to strike. 

"This is a last resort. We have talked consistently about this over the past year in an attempt to raise awareness, and the announcement was made in December, with again, plenty of notice given. 

"Despite this, we still haven't gotten any commitments."
According to BMA, 16 years of pay erosion for junior doctors has amounted to an over 30 per cent loss of pay, all while workload and burnout levels have risen.

Dr. Fearon said that pay must be addressed as a "starting block" to help staff retention, and in turn, improve working conditions for junior doctors.

"Working conditions are important, but this mandate is about pay. Our contracts and conditions need to be improved.

"We need an above-inflation award for pay this year, and we must work toward a long-term commitment to restore pay for junior doctors. 

"Junior doctors are on 30 per cent less than they were in 2008. Pay must be restored to reflect this.

"Any offer of an above-inflation pay rise, or serious commitment to negotiating, would get us into the room."