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Consultant strikes end as pay package accepted alongside reform of pay review body

Consultants in England have voted to accept the Government’s latest pay offer and put an end to recent strikes, with 83% voting in favour of the revised package (turnout 63%) on behalf of the profession.

The accepted pay offer represents an improvement on the offer that was rejected by consultants in January. It includes reform of the consultant pay scale backdated from 1 March 2024, reducing the time it takes to get to the top, which aims to reduce the gender pay gap in medicine. A 2.85% (£3,000) uplift for those who have been consultants between four to seven years was also agreed.

This offer is in addition to the 6% pay uplift awarded during the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB)’s process last summer and is separate to the pay award following the outcome of the review body process for 2024/25.

The deal also includes the reform of the DDRB, which advises the Government on rates of pay for doctors and dentists.

Changes, which will be implemented from next year, will include greater involvement from unions in the process of appointing to the DDRB, considering ‘long-term trends’ and changes to doctors’ pay over the years, and that the Government will not be able to ‘constrain’ its remit with reference to inflation and economic evidence.

Commenting on the agreement, the British Medical Association’s consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said it is ‘the end of the beginning’ in consultants’ efforts to restore their pay to 2008 levels as there is ‘still some way to go’ to achieve this.

‘The last year has seen consultants take unprecedented strike action in our fight to address our concerns about pay and how the supposedly independent pay review process was operating,’ Dr Sharma said.

‘After years of repeated real-terms pay cuts, caused by government interference and a failure of the pay review process, consultants have spoken and now clearly feel that this offer is enough of a first step to address our concerns to end the current dispute.’

He also stressed that it is ‘imperative’ for the DDRB to utilise its independence to restore doctors’ pay and prevent future pay disputes.

Chief executive of NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, said NHS leaders would ‘breathe a sigh of relief’ at the news of the pay deal.

‘The health service relies heavily on its consultant workforce and these professionals have helped to keep the most life-critical services afloat including over the difficult winter period and the recent junior doctors’ walkouts,’ he said.

However, he warned the NHS would still face the impact of further junior doctor strikes, after 98% voted earlier this year to continue industrial action between April and September after no pay deal was reached.

‘While NHS organisations have worked tirelessly to fill rota gaps and keep patients safe, more than 1.4 million appointments and operations have been cancelled over the last year of industrial action, with even more patients joining waiting lists,’ Mr Taylor said.

‘This [pay] agreement between the BMA consultant committee and Government shows that a sensible middle ground can be reached through negotiations, and we urge the BMA junior doctors committee and Government to quickly re-enter negotiations to reach a similar agreement to stop further damaging strike action by junior doctors.’

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive, NHS Providers, added that the consultant pay deal was ‘welcome’ news, but that ‘we aren’t out of the woods yet’.

‘Hugely disruptive and costly strikes in the NHS can’t become “business as usual”,’ he said. ‘Remaining concerns must be resolved. Industrial action takes a toll on patients, staff and stretched services. We urge politicians and unions to find a way to end all disputes.’

In January 2024, NHS England issued post-strike priorities to reduce elective long-waits and meet cancer 62-day backlog targets following this month’s strike action.

And in March, NHS 2024/25 priorities and operational planning guidance set an overall priority for the NHS in England over the next 12 months as the ‘recovery of core services and productivity following the Covid-19 pandemic’ continues.

A version of this article was also published by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.