Consultant strike action could be set to end after the government reached an agreement with the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA).
Both unions will put the offer to their members which, if accepted, would see the pay pot for consultants get a 4.95% boost.
Around 3.45% of this will come from government investment, with the residual 1.5% deriving from the funding of Local Clinical Excellence Awards being moved into basic pay. The awards will be scrapped going forward with the government indicating they have contributed to pay inequalities.
To be paid retrospectively from April 2024, the reforms will be applicable from January 2024 and in addition to the 6% pay uplift already awarded to consultants earlier this year.
The offer includes a reduction in the number of pay points (eight to four) and the number of years it takes a consultant to reach the sharp end of the pay scale by five years. An increase in the salary for both ends of the pay scale also features.
The government has indicated that a new pay progression system will strengthen the link between an increasing salary and evidence of competencies too – i.e., additional performance requirements must be met before an employer will authorise an uplift, replacing automatic increases.
The Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB) will also be subject to an overhaul – a move that the BMA suggests will restore its independence.
Putting an end to this strike action will support our efforts to bring down waiting lists and offer patients the high quality care they deserve – when they need it.— Victoria Atkins (@VictoriaMAtkins) November 27, 2023
Why today’s agreement is so important ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/Ll8fNfXTqG
Everything from how members are appointed to the DDRB and the timing of pay rounds, all the way to remit letters and terms of reference as well as the data provided to the body will be examined, with changes expected to be implemented by 2025/26.
Furthermore, consultant contracts will be amended to allow staff to access enhanced shared parental leave arrangements – privileges afforded to all other members of the NHS workforce, except consultants.
The BMA has also agreed to end the use of its rate card, which advises doctors on what they can charge for non-contractual work.
The chair of the BMA’s consultants committee, Vishal Sharma, said he was “pleased” that the aforementioned “much-needed” changes had been agreed after a month of negotiations.
Sharma said: “How each consultant will benefit will depend on their individual circumstances, and we will be providing them with as much detail as we can, so they are able to look carefully through the details to help them decide whether to accept the offer.”
A total of 50 strike days have led to 1.2 million appointments being postponed and approximately £1.4bn being lost, according to NHS Providers.
Consultants will engage in no further strike action while a consultation on the offer is still live – the BMA expects a referendum to start next month and close in January, which ultimately means consultants will not strike over Christmas.
On this, NHS Providers’ chief executive, Sir Julian Hartley, said: "Trust leaders will be hugely relieved that consultants won't be striking over Christmas given that demand for care is always higher in winter.
“But we're not out of the woods yet. The deal needs to be put to a vote by union members and we won't know the result until January.”
Similar progress is “essential” in negotiations with junior doctors and associate specialist doctors, according to Hartley.
The BMA’s junior doctors in England remain in negotiations with the government, while their colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland are currently balloting for industrial action.
Associate specialists and specialty doctors are also voting on industrial action, while persevering with talks to end the dispute with the government.
Responding to the news of the agreement between government, the BMA, and the HCSA, Matthew Taylor, who is the NHS Confederation’s chief executive, said he hoped the deal would set an “important precedent” for other pay talks.
He said: “With winter around the corner, the last thing health leaders will want is fresh walkouts to lead to thousands more appointments and procedures needing to be cancelled during what is typically the NHS’s busiest time of the year.”
The prime minister Rishi Sunak, commented: “This is a fair deal for consultants who will benefit from major reform to their contract, it is fair for taxpayers because it will not risk our ongoing work to tackle inflation, and most importantly it is a good deal for patients to see the end of consultant industrial action.”
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