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SAS doctors: “We must grab all opportunities”

The following is a summary of a recent speech given by Dr Shanbhag, chair of the BMA’s SAS committee, at its annual conference:

How many of you are aware that SAS grade doctors make up a quarter of senior secondary care doctors? We are a huge force and yet for too long we have sat on the sidelines and watched developments. As many here today have already done I believe it is time for us to grab the reins and help to drive the NHS that we love so much through these testing times of political and economic upheaval. I urge you to rise up to this challenge.

One of our overriding aims since the committee’s formation has been to improve the recognition of SAS doctors. Those in our grades work hard for our patients, our employers and for the NHS. We need to be valued, recognised and respected for this hard work. We need opportunities to use our experience and skills, to enhance them where necessary, to support our patients and colleagues. I would like to believe that we have made much progress, but frustrations are many as the system we work in has failed us.

To really succeed in our goals we need each and every one of you to demonstrate your skills, your hard work and your experience to your colleagues, your managers and your patients. By taking up senior posts, by continuing to teach and train others and using our job plans appropriately we will slowly increase the profile and standing of our grade and come to be recognised for the skilled and experienced specialist service that we know we already deliver. This covers autonomous practice in another name, and it is our fervent desire for recognition of this autonomous practice which is resounding in the many motions before you today.

We started the year under difficult circumstances and the first industrial action by doctors since 1975 over our pensions. We arguably had some success but far less than we would have liked and unfortunately we are still lumbered with unfair pensions contributions. We continue to work to try to limit further increases in contribution rates, and through the ‘Working longer’ group, influence the pension age.

Revalidation is now a reality and perhaps some of you have already been revalidated. I hope that you have all at least had an appraisal in the last year or so.

Did you know that only 53% of SAS doctors nationwide have had an appraisal in the last year despite it being a contractual requirement?

Improving the appraisal rates for SAS doctors remains a high priority for SASC. We have been working with the GMC, Academy, NHS Employers and other stakeholders to ensure that SAS doctors are better prepared for revalidation and are fully supported by employers. We have produced new Q&As specifically for SAS doctors which help to demystify common concerns and we have been working with NHS Employers to remind employers of their obligation to provide appropriate resources in terms of time and ‘fit-for-purpose’ data gathering systems, to meet the needs of revalidation.

Over the year we have been working closely with Health Education England and LETBs to ensure that SAS development remains a priority. Whilst Scottish SAS doctors have had development funding released and funding in Wales is now well established, there are some optimistic signs of progress towards achieving some CPD funding in Northern Ireland. In England however, we appear to be taking a retrograde step.

Following on from the MPET review consequent on the Nicholson challenge to deliver efficiency savings, the SAS funding has lost its ringfence and is now disbursed through the MPET levy. This is being interpreted in some regions as a justification to cut SAS funding.

In some ways we have made the most progress this year through our close working with NHS Employers. As well as offering significant support for SAS doctors through revalidation we have also published UK-wide job planning guidance for SAS doctors. This guidance reflects a shared understand of the key principles which should characterise a collaborative approach to the job planning process and follows similar guidance produced in 2011 for consultants and their employers.

Over the year we have been advocating the key role we as SAS doctors can play as appraisers, trainers and educational supervisors. Increasing the number of SAS doctors acting as appraisers is an excellent means of recognising their experience and knowledge, as well as increasing the number of available appraisers for those SAS doctors seeking an appraisal. Our input and liaison led to a statement from the GMC setting out their perspective on SAS doctors acting as named education supervisors or named clinical supervisors and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have also given us their backing.

The spectre of redundancies, the raid on our pension and the affront to the NHS from the ill-conceived, politically motivated reform, by an obstinate government are but the challenges that we have to conquer. Be assured that 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 the many challenges that we face into opportunities that lead on to progress.

I no longer want our grades to be the NHS’s best kept secret. As SAS doctors we must use the wealth of our experience, knowledge and dedication, to carve a place for ourselves in the new NHS. We must grab opportunities. It will not always be easy but we have a duty to ourselves, our colleagues, our patients and our NHS, to stand up and be counted.

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One Response to “SAS doctors: “We must grab all opportunities””

  1. cd says:

    dear dr shanbhag,

    thank you for your engaging and obviously heart felt speech. at the heart of basically all the woes SAS doctors are facing is a big fat prejudice: that we are a bunch of loosers who failed to become consultants, but do not want to become GPs. this is deeply ingrained in the minds of basically everyone in the NHS, no matter how wrong it is. we are the most diverse bunch there is, we have colleagues with combined experiences that no-one who has only followed the prescribed career path can even imagine. we are the ones who pick up the pieces – because we can do this. we are the only ones who still have the veritable allrounders in our midst. i for one appreciate smthg that one can only have by being an SAS: freedom. we need to make it clear to all that there are many of us who are SAS because we want to. that is the core of the message we need to send, imho.

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