As the lead negotiator for Northern Ireland in the SAS contract negotiations I am pleased to say that we have now received ministerial approval for the proposed contract and are now in a position to open the ballot for members to vote on to decide if the new contract is adopted here.
If approved the new contract will offer improved opportunities for career progression with a new 2021 specialty doctor contract and a new senior SAS grade contract. However, it is important to note that all SAS doctors will still retain the option to stay on their existing contract should they wish to do so. Newly appointed SAS doctors would automatically be on the new contract.
For the past year I have been involved in negotiations with counterparts from Wales and England to secure contract reform for SAS doctors. It has been in turn a fascinating and frustrating process, coupled with quite unique circumstances as Covid began to spread. We continued to meet remotely during the pandemic, and the fact all parties had to participate remotely probably made the process ultimately more inclusive.
In December the negotiations concluded, and the team finalised the offer. The proposed changes were then presented to your local SAS committee members and following discussion and debate they voted to recommend the contract to you, meaning they believe it presents an improved set of terms and conditions for SAS doctors working in Northern Ireland.
Our initial plans to present the contract to members had to be postponed as we waited for the contract to be signed off from the employer side. This has now happened, and the roadshow has been rescheduled for 5 May. There is still time to register to attend and hear what the new contract has secured, however only BMA members will be able to vote in the ballot. You will have the opportunity to ask additional questions at the roadshows, and you can also submit questions to [email protected] where we will be able to give you more information.
The key points to note are that the new contract offers a pay deal of 3% (subject to recurrent funding), the introduction of a new senior SAS grade called ‘specialist’ meaning there is an improved career framework, a new, flatter pay scale that is better under a career average pension scheme, allows for faster progression.
There are also some new safeguards to protect SAS doctors working the most onerous unsocial hours working patterns and to preserve a reasonable work life balance, increased on-call availability supplements, in line with those received by consultants, an additional day of annual leave after seven years in the grade.
As part of the negotiation it is also proposed that plain time would be extended to 7am to 9pm on weekdays, meaning weekday work between 7pm and 9pm would be paid at standard rates. This doesn’t mean that you would end up working to 9pm, you will still have the opportunity to discuss this as part of your job plan and the extension would not apply if you choose to stay on the old contract.
From 26 March BMA SAS members in Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to vote on the referendum in an electronic ballot. New members must join to vote. The result will be announced following the close of voting on 17 May 2021.
Siobhan Quinn is deputy co-chair of the staff, associate specialist and specialty doctor committee for BMA Northern Ireland