NHS Scotland strikes: BMA warns Scottish Government it would consider strike action in consultant pay dispute

The British Medical Association has warned “it is increasingly clear” the Scottish Government will only negotiate once a formal dispute is opened and strike action is threatened

A union representing Scotland’s doctors has warned the Scottish Government it will consider strike action, after ministers were accused of ignoring “pleas for positive engagement” during negotiations over consultant pay.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has secured an improved pay offer from the UK government for consultants in England after a previous offer was narrowly rejected at the end of January.

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This has led to the BMA in Scotland calling for a similar pay offer from the Scottish Government, taking into account the extra funding that will arise from Barnett consequentials and the higher rate of top tax in Scotland for individuals earning more than £125,140.

The BMA in Scotland has threatened to "undertake the kind of industrial action seen elsewhere in the UK", such as the junior doctors' strike pictured above in England.The BMA in Scotland has threatened to "undertake the kind of industrial action seen elsewhere in the UK", such as the junior doctors' strike pictured above in England.
The BMA in Scotland has threatened to "undertake the kind of industrial action seen elsewhere in the UK", such as the junior doctors' strike pictured above in England.

Dr Alan Robertson, chair of BMA Scotland’s consultant committee, said: “When you add in the new top rates of tax introduced in Scotland, the competitive disadvantage our consultants face is becoming increasingly clear.

“We cannot possibly hope to make any difference on reducing the number of gaps in our workforce if it continues to become substantially less attractive to work in Scotland than other places in the UK.

“While we will need to analyse the English offer in relation to Scotland, in particular any impact on Barnett consequentials, we urge the Scottish Government to commit to at least matching what is on offer in England and ensuring no consultant in Scotland is missing out. Indeed, there is an opportunity to go further if we really want to deliver the consultant workforce our NHS in Scotland needs.”

Dr Robertson added: “Sadly, given the way that ministers have recently ignored our pleas for positive engagement, I fear that this may be unlikely unless there is an urgent change in direction.

“It sadly and frustratingly seems increasingly clear that the only way we will get the attention, action and improvements necessary for the hugely valuable resource that is our consultant workforce, is to pursue a course of threatening to enter dispute and then undertake the kind of industrial action seen elsewhere in the UK.

“I very much hope that we hear from the new Cabinet secretary soon and he proves my fears unfounded.”

The consultant workforce in Scotland’s NHS is “beyond crisis point”, the doctors’ union said.

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BMA Scotland’s consultant committee responded to the latest quarterly figures for the NHS medical and dentistry consultancy workforce, which were released on Tuesday.

In the quarter ending December 2023, there were 6,006 whole-time equivalent consultants, with 436 vacancies.

Dr Robertson said: “New statistics show that consultant vacancies remain far too high, standing at some 436 gaps in the workforce – and up by 5.8 per cent on this time last year. Worryingly, posts sitting vacant for six months or more are up to 238 – a 12.2 per cent increase over the past 12 months – showing just how hard it is to recruit senior doctors.

“Audit Scotland has warned our NHS and its workforce is simply unable to meet the growing demand for health services of our population. The stubbornly high level of gaps in our consultant workforce just back up that claim further – and it is patients who are suffering as waiting lists grow and care becomes harder and harder to access.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “As BMA Scotland points out the chronic shortage of NHS consultants is the product of twin SNP failures – their mismanagement of both our health service and the economy.

“Years of dire workforce planning by successive SNP health secretaries has left us with a huge and growing shortfall of frontline medics.

“That problem is now being exacerbated by them making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, in an attempt to fill the gaping hole they’ve created in the nation’s finances.

“It is little wonder Scotland’s NHS is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain consultants when they are being taxed thousands more per year than they would be elsewhere in the UK.

“Sadly, it’s Scottish NHS patients who suffer as a result of this disastrous SNP double whammy.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.



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