Time to prioritise SAS contract implementation

I got into medico-politics to improve the lives of staff grade and associate specialist grade doctors. What I didn’t fully appreciate was the how painfully slow the process would be.

The BMA first sat down to negotiate a new contract with NHS employers over four years ago and this was after many years of calling for a new deal for non-consultant career grade doctors – as we were described then. When SAS doctors voted to accept the new contract the suggested timetable for implementation was for the majority to have transferred to the new contract by June 2009.

It was even written into the terms and conditions that it was anticipated that the job planning process would be completed within three months of a doctor expressing an interest. I am disappointed but not altogether surprised to learn that this has not happened.

Since the implementation of the new SAS contracts in April 2008, we have monitored progress closely. The whole process has felt a little like wading through treacle. The first step for trusts was to send out letters inviting doctors to express an interest in switching to the new contract. Now sending a letter to the staff grade doctors in a trust does not seem like a huge undertaking, yet according to our recent reports five trusts have not even managed to do this. We have followed this up directly and I believe that they have now finally done so.
Critical to the implementation of the new contract is the process of job planning. There is a wide range of online resources available on the BMA website to help doctors with the job planning process. However, this is contingent on employers getting the ball rolling. Our monitoring shows that only 13% of employers have concluded the job planning process and offered the new contract.

Now that we have the full picture of the sluggish nature of implementation, we have challenged NHS employers to put pressure on NHS trusts to properly implement the contract. It is not acceptable for trusts to drag their feet on this process. We are particularly keen to ensure that SAS doctors who move to the new contract get the back pay owed to them. It seems that only 7% of employers have reached this stage of implementation.

I am confident that back pay will be paid but the delays are still an unnecessary imposition and further evidence of the lack of value many employers seem to put on those in our grade.  

The proliferation of non-standard grades has been a bugbear of mine. Our research has shown that 7 out of 10 employers are offering the new contract to doctors in non-standard grades. I would like to see all non-standard posts offered the new contract. Non-standard posts create confusion for other healthcare workers and patients and should be consigned to the dustbin.

After intense pressure at our last negotiating meeting, NHS Employers has put a message out to all employers in England asking for their progress and for detail of any challenges they are facing. Perhaps a case of ‘too little, too late’ but at least a sign that they acknowledge the problem.

I have also just written to the chairs of local negotiating committees to urge them to support us in ensuring the speedy completion of implementation. We will continue the pressure both locally and nationally. The DoH has consistently said how important SAS doctors are to the NHS. This is their chance to prove their commitment to us. Contract implementation needs to be a priority, not an afterthought.

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