Employers’ representatives hope to begin negotiation of the medical consultant contract focused on enabling significantly more services to operate at weekends, HSJ has been told.

HSJ understands NHS Employers is engaging with the British Medical Association about the contract, but no agreement has yet been reached to begin formal negotiations.

Future discussions about the contract are widely expected to cover changes to the pay structure, including the introduction of a new “principal” grade covering the most senior consultants, cuts to clinical excellence awards and more strongly linking pay progression to

performance.

However, HSJ understands employers plan their main focus to be on changes to enable more services to operate seven days a week.

They hope changes to consultants’ contracts and working practices will be made alongside shifts in how other professionals work, and service redesign.

A source with knowledge of current talks told HSJ employers’ priority was to see a clear move towards seven-day services. The source said this should also help providers increase efficiency and productivity.

The source said: “There is a growing consensus we need more seven-day services and exploratory talks are ongoing and they have been constructive so far. If we get more seven-day services that will affect all sorts of staff, not just hospital consultants. These talks are about the way services are delivered and the terms and conditions that support that.”

NHS Employers has yet to set out the specific changes it would seek to make, but they could include removing provisions that currently allow consultants to refuse non-emergency weekend work. They could also include changes to the way consultants’ work patterns are planned.

Employers and the BMA have yet to agree heads of terms for any negotiations.

However, BMA negotiator Rob Harwood told HSJ that if talks began, the union would challenge employers on pay progression, and cite the failure of trusts to use already available approaches to changes in working patterns.

The BMA would also push for a definition of seven-day working “as the term means different things to different people”, he said.

Dr Harwood said: “The [BMA] consultants committee is not negotiating a new contract. The current talks do not commit us to full negotiations.”

Employers have also entered into talks on changes to the junior doctors contract. Both employers and the BMA have agreed the current contract is no longer fit for purpose, although the BMA junior doctors committee has warned it will not accept changes that reduce terms and conditions.