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Reopen associate specialist grade, doctors hear

Employers must urgently reopen the associate specialist grade to tackle the NHS recruitment and retention crisis.

Darlington associate specialist in general surgery Rajesh Choudhary told the BMA annual representative meeting that reopening the grade would boost the numbers of experienced staff working in the health service. 

Dr Choudhary said the specialty doctor grade, introduced in 2008 to replace the associate specialist role, did not give enough recognition to the expertise of staff and was increasingly seen as a ‘dead-end’ position.

He added that many trusts were finding it difficult to appoint suitably experienced clinicians as specialty doctors, with increasing numbers within the grade opting to take on locum roles.

Dr Choudhary said: ‘The current NHS does need to recruit and retain senior clinicians and their expertise … to meet the demand of ever-increasing pressure.

‘That can only happen if we re-open the AS grade and ask the NHS Employers to initiate discussion and to take appropriate action.'


Discretionary appointment

Entry to the grade was closed off in 2008 following the SAS contract negotiations, with the Department of Health introducing the specialty grade in its place.

Doctors can still be appointed to the AS grade although only at the discretion of individual trusts, and not as a result of national policy.

Portadown associate specialist in dermatology Sara Landy warned, however, that the Government had ‘no intention’ of reopening the grade, adding that it would instead make more sense to work towards boosting the profile of the specialty grade.

She said: ‘Reopening the associate specialist grade would only perpetuate the perceived two-tier hierarchy within the SAS group. It will perpetuate the perceived stigma attached to the title specialty doctor.

‘Let’s raise the profile of our specialty doctors, let’s unite the grade and fight for due recognition of the achievements of specialty doctors of today and the future.’

BMA staff, associate specialist and specialty doctors committee chair Amit Kochhar endorsed Dr Choudhary’s comments, adding that reopening the grade was a ‘practical solution’ for progressing the careers of SAS staff and helping to retain experienced doctors.

Follow the BMA ARM 2015