The Government will resume talks with the BMA on improving pay and conditions for SAS doctors, after an indicative ballot resoundingly backed the possibility of strike action.
The association’s specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors committee announced on 20 October it will enter negotiations with the Department of Health, following the decisive passing of an indicative ballot for possible industrial action by SAS doctors in England.
The ballot, which ran between 25 September and 16 October, resulted in 88 per cent of respondents affirming they were prepared to go on strike over worsening pay and working conditions.
Emphasising that SASC would return to the table in ‘good faith’, committee chair Ujjwala Mohite (pictured above) warned that failure to make meaningful progress would see SAS doctors move to a formal ballot on strike action from 6 November.
Commenting on the outcome of the ballot, SASC chair Ujjwala Mohite said she welcomed the opportunity for renewed talks with the Government but warned ministers could not ignore the ‘strength of feeling’ among SAS doctors.
She added that failure to reach detailed and meaningful progress would see SAS doctors undertake a formal ballot for industrial action.
She said: ‘The BMA is more than willing to continue talking to the Government about SAS doctors’ concerns – we don’t want to have to take industrial action and remain hopeful that this next step will lead to detailed and meaningful progress.
‘The Government cannot ignore the strength of feeling on the ground, however. SAS doctors are overworked and exhausted, and have had enough of not being properly valued for the vital work they do – something we have been hearing at a grassroots level for a long time and which was strongly echoed in today’s overwhelming indicative ballot results.
‘On top of chronic underinvestment and a lack of resource in the NHS, the last 15 years has seen real-terms pay for SAS doctors shrink by as much as 31 per cent, and many are struggling to find reasons to stay in the health service. Like other hospital colleagues, many are now being pushed to reduce their hours or leave altogether, putting patient safety at risk and increasing pressures on the NHS.
‘That’s why, with four months of stagnant talks behind us so far, we must be prepared to take the next step and ballot for industrial action if we absolutely have to – and we will do this on 6 November if upcoming negotiations fail to achieve anything for our profession.'
She added: ‘The health secretary says in his latest letter he is “keen to avoid a vote for strike action”, but this requires him to make real progress with us. No doctor wants to have to strike, and we hope we can still avoid it, but the only way we can do that is if the Government listens to our concerns, and properly responds to them.’
The decision to hold an indicative ballot came as part of a wider campaign to restore SAS doctors’ pay, which has been subject to a 30 per cent real-terms fall since 2008, or 31 per cent for those employed under the terms of the 2021 contracts.
Frustration with declining pay amid the continuing cost-of-living crisis was further compounded by the Government’s decision to exclude SAS doctors on the 2021 specialty and specialist doctor contracts from the sub-inflationary awards recommended by the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration for two consecutive years.
A BMA survey of SAS doctors on the new contracts carried out last November reveals 84 per cent of those responding felt their morale had decreased or significantly decreased as a result of their exclusion from the pay award.
In response, a motion calling for a ballot on the possibility of industrial action was first called for following a motion at the annual SAS conference in May this year.
In August, Dr Mohite wrote to health secretary Steve Barclay urging his department to engage meaningfully with her committee and to commit to making ‘significant progress’ towards improving the treatment and recognition of SAS doctors in the NHS.
For more information on this result and on future ballots please visit the BMA website. It is vital to ensure contact details held by the BMA are up to date to be able to participate in a future statutory ballot.
To notify the BMA of any changes please write to the association at [email protected]