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Consultants accept pay offer to end year-long dispute

Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line last year (Jacob King/PA)
Members of the British Medical Association on the picket line last year (Jacob King/PA)

Consultants have accepted a pay offer, ending a year-long dispute with the Government.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said its members in England voted in favour by 83%, describing the offer as an improvement on one rejected earlier this year, as well as including changes to the profession’s pay review body (DDRB).

Consultants have taken strike action over the past year, adding to the NHS waiting list which has also been affected by the junior doctors’ dispute, which remains unresolved.

The BMA said the offer includes important changes to the DDRB, which represents “significant progress” in returning the pay review body to its “original purpose and independence”.

It said that from next year, there will be changes to the way the review body will appoint members, and the Government will no longer be able to constrain its remit with reference to inflation targets and economic evidence.

The BMA added: “These changes mean that the DDRB can no longer ignore the historical losses that doctors have suffered or the fact that countries abroad are competing for UK doctors with the offer of significantly higher salaries.

“The offer also improves on the previous proposal to reform the consultant pay scale.”

The accepted offer includes a 2.85% (£3,000) uplift for those who have been consultants between four and seven years, who under the original offer received no additional uplift, said the BMA.

The offer is in addition to the 6% awarded during the DDRB process last summer.

Dr Vishal Sharma, who chairs the BMA consultants committee, said: “The last year has seen consultants take unprecedented strike action in our fight to address our concerns about pay and how the supposedly independent pay review process was operating.

“After years of repeated real-terms pay cuts, caused by Government interference and a failure of the pay review process, consultants have spoken and now clearly feel that this offer is enough of a first step to address our concerns to end the current dispute.

“However, it’s now imperative that the DDRB utilises its independence to restore doctors’ pay and prevent any further disputes from arising.

“We’ve reached this point not just through our tough negotiations with the Government, but thanks to the resolve of consultants, who took the difficult decision to strike, and did so safely and effectively, on multiple occasions, sending a clear message that they would not back down.

“At the heart of this dispute was our concern for patients and the future sustainability of the NHS. Without valuing doctors, we lose them. Without doctors, we have no NHS and patients suffer.

“But the fight is not yet over. This is only the end of the beginning, and we have some way to go before the pay consultants have lost over the last 15 years has been restored. Therefore, all eyes will be on this year’s pay review round, recommendations from the DDRB and response from the Government.”

Members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) also voted – by 83% – to accept the offer.

President Dr Naru Narayanan said: “Our members’ resilience and courage has seen them secure long overdue improvements to pay.

“This is the best deal available right now and a step firmly in the right direction.

“We will continue to ensure that consultants’ enormous contribution to the NHS is properly recognised. This will include holding the Government to account on the implementation of reforms to the pay review body.

“It is now time for the Government to step up and make our junior and SAS doctor colleagues fair pay offers.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “NHS leaders will breathe a sigh of relief to know that there will be no further damaging industrial action from NHS consultants for the foreseeable future.

“The health service relies heavily on its consultant workforce and these professionals have helped to keep the most life-critical services afloat including over the difficult winter period and the recent junior doctors’ walkouts.

“But the potential for further junior doctor strikes looms large, which could lead to more operations and appointments being cancelled and place more pressure on already stretched services.

“While NHS organisations have worked tirelessly to fill rota gaps and keep patients safe, more than 1.4 million appointments and operations have been cancelled over the last year of industrial action, with even more patients joining waiting lists.

“This agreement between the BMA consultant committee and Government shows that a sensible middle ground can be reached through negotiations, and we urge the BMA junior doctors’ committee and Government to quickly re-enter negotiations to reach a similar agreement to stop further damaging strike action by junior doctors.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The end of consultant strike action in the NHS is excellent news for patients.

“It will mean we can continue making progress towards our goal of cutting the waiting lists, which have now fallen for the fourth month in a row.

“Consultants perform a vital role at the heart of the NHS – I’m pleased they’ve accepted this deal, which is fair for them and fair for the taxpayer.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I hugely value the work of NHS consultants and I am pleased that, after weeks of negotiations, they have accepted this fair and reasonable offer, putting an end to the threat of further strike action.

“Consultants will now be able to focus on providing the highest quality care for patients and we can consolidate our progress on waiting lists – which have fallen for the past four months.

“This deal directly addresses gender pay issues in the NHS and enhances consultants’ parental leave options – representing a fair deal for consultants, patients, and taxpayers.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “This is welcome news for trust leaders.

“We aren’t out of the woods yet, however, with junior doctors having voted for more strikes and industrial action while other specialty and specialist doctors have rejected a Government pay offer.

“Hugely disruptive and costly strikes in the NHS can’t become ‘business as usual’. Remaining concerns must be resolved. Industrial action takes a toll on patients, staff and stretched services.

“We urge politicians and unions to find a way to end all disputes.”