BMA to hold consultative ballot of NHS consultants in England

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 31 January 2023
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The BMA will conduct a consultative ballot of consultants in England next month, to determine whether they would be prepared to take future industrial action. Whilst this is not a legal ballot for industrial action, it represents a significant escalation towards it. The outcome will be used to inform the BMA whether to proceed to a statutory ballot on industrial action which would be over cuts to consultants’ pay and the failure to address the ongoing pensions crisis.1

The NHS is at severe risk of losing its most senior doctors as more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts and punitive pension tax rules leave consultants with little option but to reduce their hours or leave the NHS entirely. With mounting waiting lists and ever-increasing demands on the NHS, the BMA is clear that the health service cannot afford to lose doctors who are willing and able to work. Urgent action is needed to prevent the haemorrhage of senior staff.

Year after year of pay erosion has meant the average consultant in England has experienced a real terms take-home pay cut of nearly 35% since 2008/09. This has been allowed to happen because the supposedly ‘independent’ pay review process has been constantly interfered with by Government. The BMA believes that the DDRB must be reformed to return it to its founding principles so it can deliver fair pay for doctors.

Thousands of doctors have already reduced their hours or left the NHS after they have incurred large additional tax bills on their pensions by exceeding the annual or lifetime allowances. The Health and Social Care Committee has described the pension tax crisis driving doctors out of the NHS a ‘national scandal’ contributing to ‘the greatest workforce crisis in its history’, yet despite the BMA outlining the necessary solutions, the Government refuses to fix it.

The Government refuses to engage with the BMA on meaningful solutions, walking blindly into one of the biggest staffing crises the NHS has ever seen. The BMA believes it has been left with no choice but to consult its members in England to determine their views on whether they would be prepared to take industrial action.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “Despite repeatedly outlining our concerns to Government, ministers have been unwilling to act. The NHS is on its knees, patients are suffering and staff morale has never been lower. Senior doctors are cutting their hours or leaving the NHS in their droves, driven out of jobs they love by unfair pension tax rules and brutal cuts to their pay. This is having a catastrophic impact on the country’s health as waiting lists for treatment spiral out of control and patients struggle to get the care they need.

“Unless there is action by Government to address consultants’ concerns, waiting lists will simply continue to hit new record highs and staff shortages will only worsen as more senior doctors leave the NHS. The only way out of this crisis is to fix pay, fix pensions and fix the pay review body. Consultants would not take industrial action lightly. But in the absence of meaningful solutions from government, we’ve been left with no option but to consult our members’ views on whether they wish for us to hold a formal ballot for industrial action.”

Notes to editors

  1. The indicative ballot of consultants in England will open on the 10th February and close on the 27th February. This consultative ballot will be open to all consultants working for the NHS in England who are BMA members. The results of the consultative ballot will be used to inform the consultants committee of members’ views prior to taking any decision on a statutory industrial action ballot.

Further information
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.