SAS doctors in Wales, the time for action is now

We need to act now to put a stop to pay erosion, writes BMA Wales SAS doctors committee chair Ali Nazir

Location: Wales
Published: Tuesday 10 October 2023

Entering a pay dispute with the Welsh Government

UK council has now ratified our decision to enter a formal trade dispute with the Welsh Government after we rejected yet another below-inflation offer. I wrote to inform the minister for health and social services, and to express how we as a group of senior doctors are extremely disappointed and disheartened by the recent derisory pay offer – the worst in the UK, and for those on the 2021 contract as little as 1.5%.

What the award represents

This award clearly represents the persistent attempt to undervalue our work. With significant pressures on the Welsh NHS, we play a vital and invaluable role in delivering healthcare and yet we are continually faced with the erosion of our pay, which further devalues our service.

The impact of pay erosion

These sustained attempts to devalue our services by providing year after year of pay cuts and freezing pay for some of us has forced many to reduce their hours or leave the profession altogether, contributing to chronic staff shortages.

As the workforce diminishes, working conditions get tougher, with fewer skills and less experience to rely on, patients are left waiting longer, becoming sicker, and the situation becomes precarious and unsafe.

Our colleagues often tell us that they want better conditions but without improving pay to reflect our contribution to the health service, we will continue to leave, and conditions will get worse.

The importance of recruiting and retaining SAS doctors in Wales cannot be understated; we are essential to the NHS workforce but once again this pay award indicates that we are entirely undervalued and our services unappreciated.

The Welsh Government’s approach to resolving the issue created by its own decision last year to freeze pay for those on the top of the 2008 contract specialty pay scale is also extremely disappointing.

Failing to convert the 4.5% non-consolidated uplift paid in 2022/23 to a consolidated rise will leave doctors at the top of the 2008 specialty pay scale at a detriment moving forward.

It is unacceptable that those of us who have shown commitment to working as specialty doctors in Wales should receive lower pay and be disadvantaged due to the introduction of an alternative contract.

Why we will be balloting you over industrial action

Since 2008/09 the real-terms pay of SAS doctors in Wales has been cut by up to 31.7%. The 5% pay award does not even match the DDRB (Doctors and Dentists Review Body) recommendation and has left us with no choice but to act. We will hold a ballot as soon as we can on taking industrial action. 

This is our last resort. We want to care for patients, who are our top priority, but without a credible pay offer that truly values our work the Welsh Government has given us no choice.

We have made clear to the minister that we remain open to re-entering negotiations on the pay award for 2023/24, but we can only do so if there is an offer for SAS doctors on the table which is sincere, meaningful and begins to tackle the significant pay erosion we have experienced since 2008/09.

The time for action is now

Now is the time for us to come together and take a stand against the blatant devaluing of our roles. The coming weeks are going to be crucial in building momentum behind our pay campaign, to increase the pressure on the Welsh Government to give us an appropriate pay uplift.

Now is the time for you to mobilise, join our campaign, speak to fellow doctors, and prepare for industrial action.  

What you we need you to do: 

  • Update your membership details, including postal address and place of work. Accurate details are essential in helping us ensure you receive a ballot paper and ballot results are valid and cannot be challenged.
  • Encourage colleagues who are not members to join the BMA. Only BMA members will get to vote in the ballot.
  • Become a pay campaigner – as a registered pay campaigner we will be in touch to let you know what you can do on the ground to help, from holding one-to-one conversations to hosting presentations to colleagues on the pay campaign.
  • Tell international colleagues who have recently moved here about the free membership for their first year of UK residence
  • Join your local WhatsApp group to see what your local reps are organising.

We will keep you regularly informed on developments as the campaign progresses.

Ali Nazir is chair of the BMA’s Welsh specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors committee