Above photo: setrustMedia/YouTube.
Another group of doctors threatens action.
Following on from junior doctors and consultants, a third group of NHS professionals is now floating the idea of strike action. The union involved is once again the British Medical Association (BMA), and the doctors are known as SAS ones, who work mostly in hospitals. While the profession may be slightly different, the reasons for the potential industrial action are the same: pay and working conditions.
NHS SAS as more doctors threaten to strike
Specialty and Associate Specialist (SAS) doctors are a vital part of the workforce, making up 20% of the medical staff in England
You might not have heard of them, and their role is quite opaque – but as HEE noted, there are a lot of SASs. The difference with the role is that the person has chosen not to take a career-led pathway. That is, they stop ongoing post-graduate training to become a consultant or GP. However, as the BMA noted:
They have at least four years of full-time postgraduate training, two of which have been in their relevant specialty.
SAS doctors work in hospitals and have a very ‘hands on’ role with a lot of patient contact.
There are SAS doctors in every hospital specialty and also in community hospitals (eg psychiatry and paediatrics). Some hold jobs in both the hospital and the community (eg gynaecology and sexual health).
Some SAS doctors also work part-time as GPs. SAS doctors therefore work across primary, community and hospital care.
While patients and colleagues value SAS doctors, the government clearly doesn’t. As the BMA wrote:
Like many other branches of practice, the Government has continually failed to recognise and reward SAS doctors accordingly and they have seen their real-terms pay fall by more than a quarter over the last 15 years, which is driving more talented professionals out of the NHS and putting patient safety at risk.
So, the union has been in talks with the government over these issues. However, the BMA said “significant progress is still to be made” to avoid moving toward industrial action. So, chair of the BMA SAS UK committee Dr Ujjwala Mohite has written to the health secretary Steve Barclay. In it, she implied that the issues are about more than just pay:
We believe that making the SAS grade a positive career choice is vital for the NHS. SAS doctors make up an essential part of the NHS workforce, but we are deeply concerned about the rate at which these doctors are leaving the NHS. It is essential we take significant steps now to improve SAS doctors’ working lives and reward them appropriately, to reverse the damaging effect that years of being undervalued has had to this highly experienced group.
The BMA’s triple threat to the Tories
With this in mind, the BMA has issued the government with an ultimatum.
On 20 September the BMA SAS Committee will meet to decide whether to proceed to an indicative ballot for industrial action. I would much rather present the committee with positive meaningful reforms for SAS doctors that we have agreed with your government. I hope we can meet soon to make meaningful progress on these matters.
Given the Tories’ intransigence towards junior doctors and consultants, it’s unlikely they’ll be forthcoming in response to SAS doctors’ demands. As the Canary recently reported, Barclay has been lying and making up figures in relation to the ongoing BMA consultants’ strike. These professionals are set to walk out again on 24 and 25 August because the Tories haven’t budged on pay.
What’s more, junior doctors had only just finished their fifth round of strikes when the government came out and said that negotiations on pay were over. As ITVX reported, health minister Will Quince would only give ground on working conditions. He said the government was “open” to talking about these.
So, the BMA now represents a triple threat to the Tories, encompassing the majority of frontline hospital doctors. If SAS practitioners decide to walk out, and juniors and consultants continue their action, it would be unprecedented in the NHS’s history. But if that’s what’s needed to make the Tories listen, then so be it.