HCSA wins TUC backing for SPA squeeze focus

Consultant shortages and the “deplorable” squeeze on SPA time facing HCSA members were placed front and centre by our delegation at the annual TUC conference in Brighton in September.

While the sun shone beyond the main hall, inside around 1,000 delegates and guests were debating the many issues affecting people employed in every sector, from the senior Civil Service to street sweepers.

HCSA greatly values its links with the TUC, which offers support and assistance and allows us many additional avenues through which to pursue and represent the interests of our members. Those links were underlined when delegates unanimously backed the two motions tabled by this year’s HCSA representatives, General Secretary and Chief Executive Eddie Saville and Executive member Dr Paul Donaldson (pictured).

Consultant microbiologist Dr Donaldson, delivering his first ever address at TUC, relayed HCSA’s “deep concern” that the local drive to reduce SPA time well below the 7.5-2.5 ratio – as detailed in the national 2003 consultant contract – could impact on patient care.

He warned the move by many Trusts to cut back on SPA time would ultimately have a major impact on patient care.
“Trusts see lower SPA allocations as a way to get more clinical work out of Consultants,” he warned.

“More clinical work equals more throughput equals better value for money.

“This, however, ignores the value of the work that is done in SPA time, which in many ways is what defines a Consultant.”

The motion followed the results of polling of HCSA members on the subject of SPA time which indicates a major and wide scale squeeze. Half of respondents said their SPA time had been reduced in the past five years, and eight in 10 of these reported that the cut had been imposed.

As a result, those affected reported a major reduction in the time available to carry out important research, professional development and teaching tasks.

As Dr Donaldson noted, “it is not good for Consultants, it is not good for the future of the NHS, and it is not good for the patients we treat. For the future of our health service, this squeeze has to stop.”

Saville also secured delegates’ unanimous support for HCSA’s campaigning on the issue of consultant shortages.

“There are just not enough hospital consultants – full stop,” he warned.

“We also hear a lot these days about the seven-day NHS. The HCSA, like many other health unions, has no issues with the principles of a seven-day service, although we know we already have a seven-day service.

“However it must be a safe seven-day service, fully staffed, fully funded and delivered safely for both patients and staff.

“With hospital consultant shortages running at such a high level, along with other staff groups in the NHS also running short, the notion of such a service with the current numbers seems a long way off.”

Saville branded a 10 per cent fall since 2013 in the number of FY2 trainees starting specialist training “astonishing,” warning: “These were the consultants of tomorrow lost to us and our communities, and when you couple this with those consultants who have already gone and those who are heading for the exit doors for various reasons, including working overseas, early retirement and burnout, the position is a scary one.”