At a time when the NHS is reeling under workforce shortages, a recent survey has found that SAS doctors feel undervalued and are bullied at their workplace, making it imperative for employers to provide a more supportive work environment, says Dr Amit Kochhar

Ask any member of the public what a specialty and associate specialist or locally employed doctor is and you’ll probably get the same answer each time. Silence.

We can hardly blame the public for this – there are enough acronyms floating around the NHS – but even within the healthcare system, SAS and LE doctors are feeling overlooked and undervalued.

In some cases, bullied.

A recent General Medical Council survey, the first of its kind for this branch of practice, found that a quarter of SAS doctors disagreed that their workplace environment was a fully supportive one, while more than a third felt they were not always treated fairly.

And two-thirds of SAS doctors bullied in their workplace did not report the incident, while one in 10 said they didn’t know how to raise a complaint.

I know how this feels – too often my work is coded to other colleagues, which can sometimes make you feel like you don’t even exist, both among the workforce and with patients.

SAS doctors are often historically regarded as the “forgotten tribe” in medicine, and we have fought to get SAS careers recognised as a valid and respectable path, with development opportunities and benefits to choosing it.

But another reason why so many feel forgotten might be because a large proportion of SAS doctors are black, Asian and minority ethnic – and there is definite racism and gradism, as featured in the GMC’s 2019 Fair to Refer report, that affects their experiences.

All of this has a huge effect on staff morale, not to mention the other pressures we’re currently dealing with throughout the NHS.

 Another reason why so many feel forgotten might be because a large proportion of SAS doctors are black, Asian and minority ethnic

The survey, which heard back from more than 6,000 SAS and LE doctors between May and June last year, found that a quarter of SAS doctors reported feeling burnt out ‘to a high or very high degree’ by their jobs.

It comes down to the age-old fact that happy, looked-after doctors make for better care and ultimately, safer patients.

In 2014, the British Medical Association, along with NHS Employers, Health Education England, and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, published the SAS Charter, dedicated to providing greater development and working opportunities for SAS doctors.

Take-up has been slow, however. Only around one third of SAS doctors reported that their employer had taken steps to implement the SAS Charter, arguably making many feel even more underappreciated.

The NHS is facing an unprecedented crisis – hospitals are overcrowded, patients are waiting longer than ever before for the care they need, and our workforce is desperately depleted.

With doctors working around the clock to keep this sacred institution afloat, now is not the time to make them feel the way so many clearly do, and more must be done to stamp out any degree of bullying among colleagues.

This isn’t just in the interests of the future of the NHS, but most importantly, the health of our patients; the very reason all of us became doctors in the first place and something we should remember unifies us all, SAS doctor or not.

We all wear the NHS logo. We’re on the same team.