Battling to get new SAS contract implemented

Dr Radhakrishna Shanbhag, chair of the BMA’s SAS doctors committee, addressed its annual conference this week. Here’s a summary of his speech:

The new government seems to have made some good suggestions in their first few weeks but I have been in politics long enough to know that the proof is in what is delivered rather than what is said. We know that the financial situation and inexperience of the new administration will bring us some additional challenges to meet. I and my colleagues on SASC will continue to stand up for you, to face the wide ranging issues that arise and to work to turn challenges in to opportunities that lead on to progress.

Unfortunately, every SAS doctor is likely to face some difficulty in their working lives in the coming years, SPAs will be squeezed, study leave and funding will be more difficult to obtain and there could be redundancies. I know that I would rather have the might of the BMA behind me to face these challenges and if you are not members you may want to join the BMA.

The present economic situation will also increase our strength to act as a stepping stone for improvements to the working lives and careers of SAS doctors across the UK and in turn to deliver the essential role in caring for our patients that we are renowned for. Let us work together to achieve this and stand up to be counted.

Since we last met a year ago, we have continued our efforts to raise the profile of SAS doctors and one of the first steps to this was through the new contract.

Our biggest challenge has been implementation of the new contract. This has not only been patchy, but frankly poor in some regions. We have taken this up with NHS Employers on many occasions.

We have been working to assist those that have expressed an interest to assimilate to the new contract. There has been good progress in Wales and more patchy progress elsewhere. It has been frustrating but we have worked hard to do all we can to speed the process up. It’s not yet good enough. I’m amazed and disappointed to hear that two years on many are still awaiting their new contracts. We will continue this battle.

Despite the deficiencies in the contract, the focus on job planning will give many SAS doctors and dentists a voice that they did not previously have. Job planning is an opportunity to have a say in how patient care should be delivered, how your job should be done and what resources and development you need to be an effective doctor.

It appears to be on the way to resolution with some successes. By highlighting the benefits of ‘regrading’ for employers through repeated communications with LNC’s , support from the BMA and local initiatives such as the NW Regrading Peer Group, we have made inroads into making employers acknowledge the value and commitment that SAS doctors bring to the service.

We have carefully monitored the GMC/PMETB merger and have continued our regular dialogue with those involved in the assessment of CESR applications. Despite the name change our influence has remained constant – we meet the same people although their name badges and phone numbers have changed. I am pleased we have this liaison and we will continue to use this route to support our members through what is often a traumatic process.

An issue of concern at the present time appears to be the inappropriateness of having and promoting a system that justifies two classes of specialists – those through CCT and others through CESR. We will engage and work with the GMC to try and address these inconsistencies.

Revalidation is the other big issue on the horizon and I was very pleased to hear of the new health secretary’s decision to extend the pilots by a further year. Revalidation has the potential to give patients greater confidence and be a useful tool in monitoring our skills. However, several issues need to be worked out before it is introduced. Who will take up the responsible officer roles? Who will assess responsible officers? How will the additional workload be funded? How will we ensure that it is not an inappropriate and bureaucratic burden on doctors and employers? How do we ensure that it is not used by employers to make you conform to their agenda?

In announcing his decision to extend pilots for an additional year until 2012, Andrew Lansley noted the need for “a clearer understanding of the costs, benefits and practicalities of implementation”. Our key functions in the development of revalidation are to represent your views and to provide guidance on developments.

In 2008, we warmly welcomed the £12 million development funding in England. There have been many good uses of this funding in some areas and we have sought to raise these as examples of good practice to be followed elsewhere whilst castigating those deaneries who are inappropriately using this valuable funding. At the beginning of this month I met Patricia Hamilton who is the director of Medical Education in England. She reiterated her support for the continuing development of SAS doctors and offered her support to ensure the appropriate use of funding. Raj Nirula’s appointment as the Welsh Associate Dean has shown what can be done without funding. Two weeks ago I attended an excellent conference in North Wales where we heard more about the e-learning Tool already available to Welsh SAS doctors. The conference was organised by the Welsh Deanery and all this without funding!

Scotland have made some progress, they have an Associate Dean and I believe are several steps towards providing some similar funding. Northern Ireland SASC is lobbying hard for some support for SAS doctors in Northern Ireland but this is a tough battle given the acute funding issues they face.

Listen to a podcast on the conference issues.

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