Pay survey results: the devaluing of our profession is no longer acceptable to doctors

First, thank you to all those who took the time to fill in our pay survey. The fact that more than 3,100 of you did so – more than double last year’s response rate shows the strength of feeling that I know this year’s substantial real terms pay cut following years of pay erosion has caused.

You have, through the results of the survey, signalled your dissatisfaction, disillusionment and anger in stark terms. We need to demonstrate those feelings to those beyond the profession – including the general public and politicians of all parties, in the hope that it may finally prompt some action.

Hence you might see some of the results of the survey in the media and across social media in coming days. The headline, overall results we have picked out are:

  • Almost 90% of respondents feel this year’s pay uplift is too low.
  • Three quarters say this pay uplift has further decreased their morale working in the NHS.
  • 58% of those who responded say they are now more likely to leave the NHS as a result of this pay uplift.
  • 88% of respondents feel that their contribution to the NHS was not recognised by the DDRB – the pay review body – recommendation of 4.5% which the Government then applied to doctors.
  • Looking at next steps, 78% of those who responded said they would be willing to take some form of industrial action in order to deliver the improved pay that is required. 

On the basis of this survey, myself and Dr Iain Kennedy – who is chair elect of Scottish Council and will take over from me at the end of August, have joined with all the chairs of committees across BMA Scotland and today written to the Cabinet Secretary for Health seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the need for immediate action. You can read the letter here:

While that is ongoing, members on the committees that represent each individual separate branch of practice – so that is junior doctors, consultants, GPs, and Staff and Specialist doctors – will be considering and discussing the implications for their own members and their own next steps. As the pay award will impact on doctors at different stages of their careers, it’s only right that each committee is allowed to proceed on that basis.  

That is why the current focus is on overall numbers. When your own committee has had more chance to digest their own specific results, they will, I have no doubt, also have more to say about what the results tell them about their own part of the profession.

However, we continue to hope that, on reading these results the Scottish Government will now finally wake up to the crisis in the medical workforce and take serious action, starting with better pay awards as part of an urgently required plan to address years of pay erosion. We also need action on pension taxation which is still forcing too many senior doctors out of the workforce and across a myriad of issues, both large and small, which will finally make the NHS a better place to work. Without all of this, we risk losing more and more doctors, vacancies becoming even worse, and therefore making any kind of recovery of our NHS from its current parlous state impossible – as am sure you are all too aware.

If action isn’t forthcoming urgently to set out how the SG will address the need for change, we will be guided by you and your views on the next steps. While it will ultimately be up to each committee on how to proceed, I would expect all options, including different types of industrial action and the future of the DDRB process will be very much on the table. Of course, no one would ever take industrial action lightly and it would only be a last resort when other avenues have been exhausted. But it is clear from our survey that this is a live option and that you are willing to consider taking a variety of types of industrial action, up to and including strike action if required, to deliver our aims.

I want to be clear that this would not be an easy road, and we would need huge dedication and commitment from you and your colleagues should we chose to take it. But equally its clear that the status quo of poor pay awards and the devaluing of our profession is no longer acceptable to doctors – and has not been for some time. The time for action from the Scottish Government is now. Without it, they should be clear that doctors are ready to do what is needed, to protect their profession and the patients they care for.

One result of the survey that members will also be interested in concerns engagement with the DDRB – and I know there remains real concern about the failure of that body to recommend the pay uplifts that deliver what doctors need, particularly in light of rapidly rising inflation. Our survey showed 50% of those who responded want to look at a different way of working with the DDRB – made up of 32.6% supporting temporary withdrawal and 17.9% calling for permanent withdrawal from the process. Of those who supported continuing to engage, 24% said that should be while campaigning for reform. So this remains a live issue, which again it will up to individual branches of practice to consider. It’s pretty clear again though, that the system is not working or delivering the fair, real terms pay increases doctors deserve. We’ll be looking at all options closely across committees in this area and will keep you updated.

I suspect this will be my last blog as chair of Scottish Council – and I hope you aware that Dr Iain Kennedy has been elected as my successor. He will be back in touch about how our work in this area is progressing after he takes over on August 30th. I wish him well, and have no doubt he will be a strong, hard working and committed champion for doctors across Scotland. All that remains is to thank you again for your support across my time as chair. It has been a huge honour and a massive challenge to lead the profession, not least through a global pandemic. Your contribution has always helped me to speak up strongly on behalf of doctors, and I know you will go on supporting the BMA – your union – to help look after you, so you can concentrate on caring for your patients.

Dr Lewis Morrison is Chair of BMA Scotland

1 Comment

  1. Politicians and the DDRB should be remined (continually) that, while a profession’s reluctance to strike averts short-term conflict, it slowly crystallises a far greater disaster; for years now, many of the most gifted students have steered a course away from medicine and now the demographic time bomb combined with pension taxation sees an increasing flow of senior talent into retirement. I often cite that the Titanic’s sinking was inevitable long before anyone realised that there was even such a possibility; I fear that the NHS as we know it could well be the same.

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