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Cover story: New year, new challenges

Chairman of the executive Ross Welch explains why HCSA members have an important role to play in building the collective voice of Hospital Consultants & Specialists.

At every level – national, local and personal – the HCSA is today recognised as a leading professional association representing hospital consultants, staff and associate specialists, specialty doctors and specialist trainees.

As a negotiating body, we engage with employers and key policy-makers, while locally we guard collective terms and conditions at hospitals and trusts across the UK health service.

Among individual members we have attracted widespread admiration for our expert representation on the ground.

As the “businessification” of the NHS continues and job planning becomes more and more pernicious, medical and dental staff are increasingly becoming embroiled in difficult and complex issues with their local employer.

The number of individual and collective cases grows incrementally every year, meaning that today membership of a union has become an essential that no employee can afford to go without.

HCSA members will be aware of the fantastic level of support and advice that our team of National Officers provide on a personal basis, underlying why our annual membership fee is worth every penny.

Yet many colleagues are still members of no organisation at all – a matter of great concern to the HCSA, as it should be to us all. When they almost inevitably do need professional support, they have none.

Recognition works the other way around too.

HCSA members should be recognised for this within local sites – both as “go-to” individuals for the value of their opinions and as representatives and recruiters of the association, seeking to influence non-member colleagues of its many benefits.

Equally, at a local level, HCSA recognises the importance of being present on all Trust staff negotiating committees to help ensure that the voices of our profession and association are heard.

As the only union and professional association dedicated solely to hospital doctors, as observers we sit alongside other health unions on the national NHS Staff Council in talks with NHS employers and government, a position we have held since 2013. We also sit on the national and local Social Partnership Forums – bodies that directly engage with employers and government on policy and strategy issues.

Members of those same unions sit locally on Joint Staff Negotiating Committees (JSNCs) opposite trust-level employers – an increasingly critical forum as negotiations with trusts on local terms and conditions replace national contracts, which are being diluted and sidelined.

It is here that the HCSA can and should be on the list of organisations recognised by a trust – the prerequisite for JSNC membership. This is the place where our HCSA Hospital Representatives can play a crucial role, being part of the collective staff side along with many of our fellow TUC affiliates, adding our voice to that of our colleagues. We already have local recognition in many trusts but we can improve our density. 

So we continue to press forward on this front – greater local collective recognition. But HCSA remains focused on the legitimate goal of national recognition at negotiations. This for too long has been the preserve of the BMA alone.

Alongside the HCSA’s position on the NHS Staff Council, where terms and conditions affecting the whole NHS workforce are negotiated, recent talks on consultant and trainees’ contracts have seen the HCSA engaged in frequent in-depth discussion with NHS Employers and the Department of Health.

Yet still, while the historical matter of formal national “recognition” today seems almost moot, the HCSA remains committed to achieving the final piece of the jigsaw – challenging the historical position that grants special privileges for direct negotiations.