Making your voice heard can make a difference.
After months of negotiation with the Government aimed at securing improvements to pay and conditions, the BMA SAS (specialist, associate specialist and specialty) doctors committee voted to present a final Government offer to SAS doctors in England on 18 December.
The offer, which would see uplifts in pay for SAS doctors on the 2021 contracts of between six and nine per cent, was announced on the same day that a formal ballot for industrial action returned a mandate for change, with the majority of participants backing strike action.
While SAS doctors in England are yet to follow their consultant and junior doctor colleagues onto the picket lines, the decision over what happens next remains firmly in their hands, with a referendum on whether to accept or reject the offer now underway.
While the SAS doctors committee is not taking a position on how members cast their votes, it is eager for doctors to have the full facts and detail of the offer before reaching a decision.
Like many of their medical colleagues across the NHS, SAS doctors have endured a significant fall in real-terms pay over the past 15 years, with rising inflation and exclusion of the new contracts from pay awards granted by the DDRB (the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration) the driving force behind balloting for industrial action.
Under the terms of the offer made in December, pay scales for doctors on the 2021 contracts will see a basic pay increase of six to nine per cent, depending on their pay point.
Should the offer be approved, the changes in pay would be implemented this spring and backdated to 1 January. These pay scale changes are separate to, and will not impact, future awards recommended by the DDRB and made through the annual pay review process.
The increases would not apply to doctors employed under closed contracts, such as the 2008 specialty doctor contract, although these individuals would be given indefinite eligibility to transfer to the 2021 contracts.
As well as increases in pay, the offer to SAS doctors in England would seek to address the issue of career progression by providing a £5m fund to create specialist roles, providing opportunities for specialty doctors to progress in their careers.
Roles created with this funding would only be open to internal candidates in the first round of recruitment, to help this progression. If a doctor moved from the specialty doctor to specialist grade, the funding could be used to cover the difference in salary provided the former post was not backfilled.
The terms of the offer would ensure a commitment by the Department of Health, NHS Employers and NHS England to work together with the BMA on several measures to further support progression, including promoting job planning, creating advice and guidance on promoting the specialist role, and conducting research into why more specialist roles haven’t been created and what can be done to address this.
All four groups would also work together to better understand the make-up of the LED (locally employed doctor) workforce. This would include examining their contractual terms and needs, and enabling these doctors, where suitable, to move onto permanent SAS contracts.
Work would also potentially include the development of a process by which all LEDs who have been fulfilling a role comparable to the duties and responsibilities of a SAS doctor for 24 months or more, should be offered the option to move to a SAS contract.
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Meanwhile, doctors unable to meet these criteria who have been kept on temporary contracts should be offered the option to be made permanent.
There would be a further agreement to promote the statutory right of LEDs with four or more years of continuous service on successive fixed-term contracts to be made permanent.
Should members vote to accept the offer, the SAS committee would agree to a withdrawal of the BMA rate card for SAS doctors performing extra-contractual work in England, with the condition that the card can be re-applied in the event of a future industrial dispute.
As the referendum gets underway, SAS committee UK chair Ujjwala Anand Mohite urged her colleagues to fully verse themselves in the details of the offer, adding that the collective interests and wishes of SAS doctors would continue to guide the committee whatever the outcome of the vote.
She said: ‘This offer, reached after painstaking negotiations with the Government, represents a step towards righting some of the wrongs that we as SAS doctors have faced and continue to face.
‘The BMA does not have a vested interest in the result of the referendum. As an association our first and foremost duty is to represent the will of our members. We need you to tell us what you think by taking part in the referendum.’
She added: ‘No SAS doctor wishes to strike, but be assured, our mandate for industrial action remains strong. I urge all of you to truly consider the terms of this offer, and to use your vote to once again make your voices heard.’
Should SAS doctors vote to accept the offer, the possibility of industrial action will end with the deal implemented by April this year. A rejection could see steps towards SAS doctor strikes in England.
The referendum closes at 5pm on Wednesday 28 February.