Retaining and attracting doctors amid pay cuts

BMA Cymru Wales chair David Bailey reflects on the challenge to retain and recruit more doctors in Wales after facing years of pay cuts

Location: Wales
Published: Monday 16 August 2021
david bailey

On Wednesday 21 July the Welsh Government announced that it would provide hardworking NHS staff with a 3% pay rise, the recommended amount from the independent pay review body for NHS doctors and dentists in the UK.

While we appreciate that some may view this as fair, particularly in a climate of financial uncertainty it has certainly been yet another huge disappointment for many healthcare workers, especially those who have made considerable sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many NHS staff have had to stay away from their family and support network, work gruelling hours without breaks often beyond contracted hours and treat a new and deadly virus and some now live with the virus’s lasting effects or tragically lost their own life in the process.

In a recent survey of our members, over 55% of doctors in Wales felt ‘disappointed’ by the offer of a 3% pay rise which is once again under inflation (projected to be 4%). A further 23% felt ‘outraged’ by the figure which will see yet another pay cut for doctors, who after years of training are still faced with student debt, a rising cost of living and significant taxes to their hard earned pension.

While these figures are a stark reminder of a collectively demoralised workforce we have also been saddened to read some of the comments from respondents, some who said that this was the ‘final straw’ with a projected 30% of doctors expected to retire early or leave the profession as a result.

'This is going to see me end my career in medicine with a really sad and sour feeling. I am disillusioned and exhausted, and feeling completely devalued. This is a very sad way to finish a career of public service,' said one doctor.

Another added, 'it’s very disappointing that our sacrifices and hard work have not been recognised. Never has any disease (COVID-19) presented so much risk of being killed in the profession'.

While the final comment really sums up the lasting impact of COVID-19 on our hardworking NHS colleagues…

'I contracted Covid at work and I am now debilitated by Long Covid. I sacrificed my family’s health and safety and risked my life without appropriate PPE. This has gone too far, and I am at breaking point from what I have sacrificed. I feel worthless to the Welsh government as a doctor now.'

I can think of no other profession where such high levels of responsibility and risk are so willingly overlooked. We’re now urging the Welsh Government to reconsider the pay award and to consider our proposals to try to keep doctors in Wales and create attractive propositions to attract new ones.

This includes working with the Welsh Government to look at other ways to retain consultants in Wales including making sure that they do not get taxed twice on their pensions as consultants often retire and return.

This would certainly be an attractive proposition for experienced consultants, enabling them to support the recovery programme and could prove crucial in meeting the growing demands on services including the record-high waiting lists in Wales.

We also need to see better and safer working practices to improve the health and wellbeing of health professionals to protect them from burnout, stress, and fatigue. This is outlined in our Fatigue and Facilities Charter a mandate to all health boards to ensure they’re providing better facilities, have adequate rests, nutritious food and better occupational health services.

We need to see health boards commit to implementing this as a matter of urgency to ensure they’re doing their part to retain hard-working, dedicated, and talented doctors in Wales.

We know that goodwill runs our NHS but for how long and at what cost to the mental and physical health of those who look after us?