• Leading medic says government’s pay offer sends message consultants are “least valued” in public sector
  • Describes pay review body’s offer as “bargain basement” and criticises its independence
  • BMA wants to wind back 10 years of pay restraint 

Medical consultants were “singled out for special punishment” by the government’s “disappointing” pay offer, a leading member of the British Medical Association has told HSJ.

In an exclusive interview Rob Harwood, chairman of the consultants’ committee, said he believed the poor pay deal was a “”watershed moment” stressing the union would be consulting with members over its next steps.

Dr Harwood said senior medics were angry and now felt they were the least respected members of the public sector and he criticised the independence of the doctors’ pay review body as being “beholden” to the government.

In a further warning to government, he said 10 years of pay restraint needed to be reversed if consultants were to avoid feeling completely undermined.

His interview comes after a message to BMA members warning the union could take a tougher line with the government in its negotiations over the consultant contract.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced last month consultants would see a 1.5 per cent increase from October this year, but Dr Harwood said consultants feel they were “singled out for special punishment by not having that backdated”.

He said: “I’m not going to say it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it feels like a watershed moment for us.”

“The message it sent to consultants is that you are valued the least in the public sector. That was especially disappointing.”

Dr Harwood was critical of the independence of the pay review body and what he called a “bargain basement offer”.

“We strongly feel that the pay review body need to show their independence and not be beholden to the direction they are given from the government,” Dr Harwood said. “It is difficult for me to understand that a pay review body feels that consultants are worth less to the health service than they were last year.”

In terms of the multiyear contract promised by the health secretary, Dr Harwood said there is “no doubt in our mind that we need to wind back on 10 years of pay restraint”.

“If we don’t do that we will progressively undervalue and undermine the consultant grade,” he said. “We need to move in that direction and get on with that fairly soon.”

Dr Harwood made clear that the BMA is planning to consult with the committee and “get direction for our next steps” but said they are “not quite there yet”.

In terms of how the pay offer will affect a ballot on the contract, Dr Harwood said that people are “angry in the here and now”.

“I’m hoping that the government will see the sense of making sure consultants are properly recognised for the valuable work they do, and the settlement will be sufficiently good to make them feel that it is better than I thought it was going to be,” he said.

Dr Harwood added the way pay and taxation is constructed also “penalises consultants”.

“As they get more senior they are attracting enormous tax bills – the only sensible thing to do is less work,” he said. “We need a facilitative pay regime that makes people want to do their best and want to give extra time.”