Hospital Dr News

SAS doctors having to fill in service gaps

SAS doctors are being pressurised to sign up to job plans that include additonal duties, senior BMA representatives have warned.

Dr Radhakrishna Shanbhag, chairman of the BMA’s staff and associate specialists committee, said some trusts are using the job planning process as an opportunity to have SAS doctors fill in service gaps.

“Job plans should reflect the work doctors are doing, but some employers are asking them to do other tasks. This is not how the process should work,” he said.

SAS doctors also lack opportunities to develop their careers. This is despite Health Secretary Alan Johnson’s pledge, when the new SAS contract was introduced in April 2008, that these doctors would have “greater opportunities to progress to the top of their grade”.

While previously, access to SPAs for SAS doctors was “patchy”, now many only receive the bare minimum of one programmed activity a week, Dr Shanbhag said. However, he added that the contract did allow doctors to develop their careers in a flexible way.

Dr Anthea Mowat, an SAS doctor in Lincolnshire, said many SAS doctors around the country were under pressure to do clinical work in time allotted for professional development.

“We have to do our professional development so it leads to our hours being increased for the working week. That’s not a problem if people choose to do it but there’s concern that pressure is being put on those unwilling to be involved,” she said.

Dr Shanbhag is also concerned that some staff grades had not been given the “window of opportunity” to apply for the revised associate specialist grade contract, which closed 31 March this year. This was because “some trusts had decided there was no need for such a grade and to employ a consultant instead”, he said.

To help motivate staff grade clinicians who no longer have the chance to become associate specialists, many SAS doctors would like their own version of the Clinical Excellence Awards that consultants receive.

Dr Raj Nirula, negotiating subcommittee chair of the BMA’s SAS Committee, said introducing such awards would “reward this group of doctors who have worked for a number of years to get to the top of their profession”.

Commenting on concerns from SAS doctors, Bill McMillan, head of doctor and dentists pay and head of pensions at NHS Employers (NHSE), said  the initial job plan “should be based on the doctor’s current timetable and programme of work, which should have been previously agreed between the doctor and employer”.

McMillan said if employers felt that, because of a change in service need it was necessary to review and alter an SAS doctor’s working pattern, “this should be agreed with the individual doctor as part of the job planning process”. He advised doctors and their employers to use job planning meetings to ensure that their development needs are met.

Responding to SAS doctor’s call for an awards system, he said consultants were “the only doctors who are eligible for clinical excellence awards which have never been available to SAS doctors under either the old or new SAS contract”.

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