Leaders of the medical community have reached an agreement with government officials that could potentially put an end to the strikes led by hospital specialists, causing significant disruptions to NHS services for several months.
The British Medical Association (BMA) and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) in England are awaiting approval from their grassroots members for the government’s proposed offer. If the offer is accepted in referendums by healthcare professionals, both unions will cease their industrial action, which has resulted in the cancellation of numerous operations and outpatient appointments.
The voting will take place in the upcoming month and the outcome will not be revealed until January. This indicates that consultants will not go on strike during the typical winter crisis for the NHS.
NHS leaders expressed relief as they saw the progress as a crucial advancement in stopping the ongoing strikes by different staff groups, which have been causing issues for NHS services for nearly a year. The government stated that it offered a just and practical solution to resolving the conflict.
Ministers have made a significant change in their stance in order to reach a compromise with the unions. They have reversed their previous decision, which was often reiterated by Rishi Sunak, to not give England’s 59,296 consultants a larger pay raise than the 6% increase they had already implemented.
The consultants will be given an additional increase of approximately 4.95%, but this will only apply to the final three months of the fiscal year (January, February, and March). The amount will be included in their salaries in April, but only if the majority of both unions vote in favor.
After extensive discussions about compensation and other matters, BMA and HCSA leaders, along with government officials and chaired by Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers, reached an agreement following several overnight negotiations last week. The urgency to resolve the conflict before the onset of the coldest season prompted both parties to engage in detailed talks for weeks.
Neither the labor unions nor the Department of Health and Social Care declared themselves winners in their separate statements regarding the potential resolution. Both parties shifted from their initial stances during negotiations in order to reach a mutually accepted deal, which will now be voted on by consultants.
The unions have presented a set of enhancements to the salary and benefits of consultants which are expected to be approved by a majority of their members. A reliable source from the BMA stated: “This appears to be a very favorable agreement. I would be astonished if it is rejected.”
The BMA emphasized that while the 4.95% extra increase will only take effect in January, some consultants will see their salary rise by up to 19.6% between the end of the 2022-23 financial year in March 2023 and the start of the 2024-25 financial year in April.
There are 20 pay bands for consultants. As part of the agreement, certain consultants will not receive any additional pay due to the 4.95% increase, based on their current salary. However, those who are higher paid will see a raise of 10.59% or 12.8% during the three month period. The BMA initially requested a 12% raise for all consultants for the entire year.
As part of the agreement, consultants will receive a higher starting salary and reach the maximum pay level five years earlier. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to take advantage of improved shared parental leave options. The parties have also decided to gradually eliminate the traditional local clinical excellence awards system.
Julian Hartley, the CEO of NHS Providers, expressed that the strikes in the past year have caused unprecedented disruption for the NHS. Consultants have organized four walkouts since July, resulting in a total of nine days without their services.
According to Hartley, more than 50 days of striking have resulted in 1.2 million scheduled appointments for healthcare being delayed, causing the NHS to lose an estimated 31.4 billion in income and expenses for staff coverage.
Government officials, leaders of the National Health Service, and high-ranking representatives from the British Medical Association are optimistic that acceptance of the proposed agreement by consultants will inspire junior doctors to scale back their requests and come to a resolution. Junior doctors have been participating in strikes since the beginning of the year in their pursuit for a 35% increase in pay to offset a 26.2% decrease in the worth of their salaries since 2008-09.
Sunak emphasized the importance of putting an end to harmful strikes in the NHS in order to maintain momentum in reducing waiting lists and ensuring that patients receive the appropriate level of care.
Last month, The Guardian revealed that the government and BMA had initiated covert discussions in an attempt to reach a agreement before the onset of winter.