The BMA has expressed disappointment following the Government’s dismissive response to its concerns around senior doctors being denied access to new workplace rights on SPL (shared parental leave).
Chairs for the association’s consultant and staff, associate specialist and specialty doctor committees have labelled a response from Department of Health minister Stephen Hammond – stating that it is up to the BMA and NHS Employers to resolve the dispute – as ‘deeply disappointing’.
Changes introduced last month mean that all non-medical staff and junior doctors across England will now be able to access enhanced occupational pay, similar to maternity pay, when sharing leave.
Although the change was meant to apply to all NHS staff, consultants and SAS doctors have been advised that their access to the new rules is contingent on accepting restrictions on how redundancy payments are calculated.
Call to action
Mr Hammond’s words came in response to a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock jointly written by the two committee chairs, calling for urgent action on the matter.
He said that while he wanted NHS staff to have equal access to workplace rights, such access could not be limited to a single issue such as SPL.
He went on to imply that existing rights on redundancy payments for senior doctors should be brought into line with the rest of the NHS workforce, further adding that it was up to the BMA and NHS Employers to resolve the dispute.
He said: ‘I would very much like to see consultants and SAS doctors benefiting from the same SPL arrangements that were recently introduced for other staff groups.
‘I firmly believe that all members of NHS staff should be treated equally. It is for this reason that I support the introduction of certain shared terms and conditions of service. I see access to SPL as one such condition of service but there are also a range of others.
‘It would seem to be the right course of action to introduce access to terms and conditions of service relating to SPL, not in isolation, but together with other terms and conditions which bring about equity between NHS staff groups.
‘I believe that this is a matter best resolved via your membership of the NHS staff council. I support all endeavours to bring about equity between NHS staff and encourage you to seek an agreeable solution through working with NHS Employers.’
Dr Harwood and Dr Kochhar wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock on 11 April condemning the punitive approach being taken to consultants and SAS doctors’ access to SPL rights.
In their letter they questioned why two particular branches of practice had been apparently singled out and denied automatic access to rights that had been ‘freely given to other staff groups’.
Responding to the letter, both committee chairs repeated their determination that they and their colleagues would not be coerced into bargaining for their new and existing rights.
The two chairs added that redundancy often had a disproportionate personal and financial effect on doctors, could not be treated on equivalent basis to a basic and universal right such as SPL.
Unfair and unethical
They also took issue with Mr Hammond’s incorrect assertion that it was up to the BMA via the NHS staff council to resolve the dispute, given that consultants and SAS doctors were governed by separate contracts with separate bargaining arrangements.
They said: ‘It is deeply disappointing that the minister, while affirming his support for equal treatment among NHS staff, has singularly failed to address many of the serious concerns outlined in our previous letter.
‘As previously stated, it is grossly unfair and unethical to demand that one particular staff group be required to meet certain conditions or have to negotiate over existing separate employment rights, before they are allowed to qualify for something that was intended to be universally accessible.
‘It is also regrettable that the minister appears to believe that the Government has no role or in remediating this situation, and we would urge that ministers reflect upon their responsibility in helping to resolve this impasse.’
Read the BMA's shared parental leave Parliamentary briefing
Find out more about the new rules around shared parental leave
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