Government’s 3% ‘offer’ is nothing but another real-terms pay cut for consultants in England

This year’s pay uplift does little to claw back what we’ve lost, writes BMA consultants committee chair elect, Vishal Sharma

Location: England
Published: Friday 23 July 2021
slip of pay

The announcement of an improved 3% uplift for consultants in England is a testament to the efforts of thousands of our members who made their views crystal clear when the Government first suggested a paltry 1% uplift at the beginning of the year.

However, it still falls well short of the at least 5% uplift that the BMA’s consultants committee has campaigned for as part of Fairness for the frontline. With inflation currently predicted to increase to close to 4% later this year, this so-called uplift should be seen for what it really is – another real-terms pay cut. This is made worse by the decision to not reflect the uplift in CEAs (clinical excellence awards), which means for those consultants with a CEA their pay will rise by even less than the already inadequate 3%.

I know that for many this will be frustrating and deeply disappointing, especially as it shows once and for all how little the Government values the dedication and expertise of consultants in England, many of whom have been brought to the brink of breaking point by the pressures of the past 18 months. It is also concerning to see reports that the Government plans on using the rumoured increase in national insurance for social care to partly fund this increase. Not only does this result in staff part funding their own pay uplift, but any uplift should be fully funded by Government and should not lead to cuts elsewhere across the health and social service.

What we do next is of vital importance to all consultants in England, which is why it is important that you complete our survey on what you think of the announcement and what steps you want to see next.

Complete the survey

Consultants have given their all in leading the fight against COVID-19. Some at the expense of their own health. Others with their lives. And this pressure will only intensify as we begin to tackle the backlog of delayed treatment caused by the pandemic.

Since May, almost 2,500 consultants have written to their MP demanding the Government delivers a fair and significant pay uplift for consultants in England. And while ministers may have awarded consultants more than they first suggested, we, more than any other group of healthcare workers, have been hit hardest by years of below-inflationary pay rises from successive governments. In 2008/09, the estimated take-home pay for the average consultant in England was £67,752. Taking inflation (Retail Price Index) into account, the real-terms value of that figure was just £48,356 in 2019/20. That is a decline in value of 28.6%.

This announcement does little to begin clawing back what consultants have lost. And this comes at a time when we also face the prospect of further damaging reforms to our pensions. While the BMA has successfully lobbied for some changes to pensions annual allowance taxation, the problem is far from resolved and the Government has made things worse by freezing the pension lifetime allowance. This will result in consultants facing additional tax bills potentially of tens of thousands of pounds, or more likely leave them with little option but to consider early retirement. Data from the NHS Business Authority shows that since 2008, 21% of doctors have quit the NHS, with 72% in a recent BMA survey suggesting they may retire early, with pay cuts and punitive pensions taxation the biggest drivers.           

We need to understand what you think of this pay award, and what action you would like us to take on your behalf, which is why I would strongly urge you to complete the survey. Please note the survey will close on Monday, 16 August at 5pm BST.