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We have already seen in previous years the government ignoring recommendations from the independent DDRB (Doctors and Dentists Review Body). This year it went a step further and persuaded it to not even hear evidence for consultants and other hospital doctors.
This entirely undermines the role of the pay review body, and is not just deeply unfair to doctors, but has a bearing on our patients. The DDRB can have a positive influence in ensuring there are enough doctors, with the right level of experience, to deliver high-quality patient care. That is why in previous years it has often targeted pay increases to help recruitment and retention.
Instead, consultants are subject to a two-year pay award announced last year, which gave a 1 per cent non-consolidated increase for doctors at the top of their pay scale for each of the two years. Doctors who are eligible to receive increments get no further increase.
This comes at a time when more than 40 per cent who responded to the most recent BMA tracker survey said their workload was unmanageable or unsustainable.
And although this year’s DDRB report was not considering evidence about consultants, it does make some very telling points.
Its report says: ‘While hard evidence is limited, we consider that recent developments have the potential to threaten consultant morale: as far as we can see, workload appears to be increasing, pension changes are perceived as negative and our recommendations to increase incremental points by 1 per cent last year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not implemented.’
This suggests that the DDRB does recognise at least some of the pressures faced by consultants, and ought to be allowed to fulfil its job before further harm is done to recruitment and morale.
Many consultants have already pointed out the irony of the DDRB being undermined by the government over the job it is charged with doing, and yet at the same time being given a role in the new consultant contract.
The DDRB has been asked by the governments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make ‘observations’ on proposals provided by the BMA and NHS Employers for ways to better facilitate healthcare services over seven days without increasing resources, and will consider other areas such as pay progression linked to responsibility and performance.
The BMA submitted written evidence in December and has recently given oral evidence.
We remain committed to negotiating a contract that is fair to doctors and protects and enhances high-quality care. But – whatever the role of the DDRB – we seem to be dealing with a government that fails to value those working under greater pressure than ever before.
Rob Harwood is joint deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee