BMA and government agree on pay offer for specialty and specialist doctors

The British Medical Association has reached an agreement for members to vote on deal that will improve pay scales and career development

Published: 18 December 2023 Government & NHS

Specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors will be given the chance to vote on a pay offer in the coming weeks, after the British Medical Association reached agreement with the government.

No strike action will be called while members are being consulted on an offer to realign pay scales, improve career development and progression, and create extra specialist roles in the NHS.

SAS doctors are the latest group of healthcare workers to be offered an improved deal by the government, but the Society of Radiographers remains in an industrial dispute with the Department of Health and Social Care over the current pay offer, and is still waiting to meet the new new health minister Victoria Atkins

This new offer for SAS doctors follows a previous multi-year deal made in 2021, which altered pay scales, provided more opportunities for progression, and introduced new safeguards to support the health and wellbeing of SAS doctors.

The new offer will address imbalances in pay scales for SAS doctors after the 2021 deal created inconsistencies, will speed up delivery of objectives set in this deal, and encourage existing SAS doctors to take up the new contracts, which offer modernised terms and conditions.

Pay and progression

Prior to 2008, SAS doctors were appointed to staff grade or associate specialist posts. Since 2008 these grades have been closed to new entrants, with all new SAS doctor appointments being specialty doctors. The 2021 deal introduced the specialist grade, which sits between the specialty doctor and consultant grades, offering career progression for SAS doctors. 

Specialist grades will still mainly focus on providing direct clinical care but will also have further development opportunities such as management, additional responsibilities, research and clinical academia.

The offer is separate from the 2023/24 pay uplift, which saw the government accept independent pay review body recommendations to increase pay for those on pre-2021 contracts by 6 per cent and those on 2021 contracts by 3 per cent, on top of the increase already agreed up in the 2021 multi-year deal.

It also includes plans to set up a £5 million funding pot to help NHS employers create more specialist roles where there is need.

'Supporting the workforce'

Health and social care secretary Ms Atkins (Conservative) said: “I value the vital work of SAS doctors and I’m pleased we have been able to make this offer following constructive talks with the BMA.

“If accepted, it will realign pay scales, improve career progression and support the NHS to create more specialist roles – boosting patient care and supporting the workforce.”

The 2021 contract provided more opportunities for progression for highly experienced specialty doctors, introducing a specialist grade to recruit, motivate and retain senior doctors. It also introduced a new pay structure to enable SAS doctors to reach the top of the scale more quickly, along with a number of safeguards to support the health and wellbeing of SAS doctors.

If the offer gets accepted by its members, the BMA has also agreed to end the use of its rate card for SAS doctors in England - which advises doctors on how much to charge for non-contractual work, including cover during strikes. 

The SoR remains in dispute

The offer also follows an agreement reached between the BMA and the government earlier in the year for consultant doctors, which included a 5 per cent pay uplift and significant improvements to their reward system. 

The SoR and the BMA went on strike together in October in response to ongoing pay, recruitment, and retention issues blighting the profession. Radiographers across the UK joined picket lines to raise awareness of the staff shortages, low pay, and the excessive working hours they face in the profession alongside other NHS workers. 

The SoR remains in formal dispute with the department over the 2023-34 Agenda for Change (AfC) pay award and its failure to engage with the Society to address the workforce crisis in radiography.

Radiographers in Northern Ireland will be taking strike action again in January, unless a solution to the current political deadlock can be found. 

SoR CEO Richard Evans wrote to Ms. Atkins earlier this year, questioning the refusal to arrange meetings and discuss the issues in its agenda. 

(Image: Breige Cobane)