Cover story: Fresh salary blow poses questions on DDRB's future

HCSA has supported calls for radical reform to the mechanism deciding hospital doctors’ pay after the latest below-inflation package was announced by the government.

Following a decade of real-terms wage decline, pay review body the DDRB recommended the government end its 1 per cent policy. It urged an uplift of 2 per cent for all grades, and an additional 1.5 per cent for SAS doctors, backdated to April.

While a change from the previous tone, this recommendation still fell substantially short of HCSA’s call for a 3.9 per cent rise to acknowledge the damaging long-term slide in hospital doctors’ salaries.

However, in England, the government rejected even the DDRB’s conservative recommendation – instead imposing a rises of 1.5 per cent for Consultants, 2 per cent for training grades, and 3 per cent for SAS doctors. Crucially, the decision to implement on October 1st instead of backdating to April means the actual value over the year is halved. CEAs were also excluded from the uplift.

In Scotland, the pay settlement reflected those for other public sector workers, with doctors earning below £80,000 receiving a fully backdated rise of 3 per cent, and those above a flat £1,600.

Hospital doctors are not alone in expressing their concerns at the decision to ignore even the independent pay review body recommendations. At the Trades Union Congress  in Manchester, HCSA spoke in support of a motion initially tabled by the Prison Officers Association which called the current review framework into question and urged a new system of direct negotiation with employers.

Addressing hundreds of delegates, HCSA Executive member Dr Paul Donaldson (pictured) warned: “In the last few years, we have seen our review body approached to consider changes to the working pattern of doctors, by a government intent on pushing through changes by seeking the endorsement of a putatively independent body. The DDRB have dutifully endorsed its proposed changes and it has handed them down for implementation by employers.

“Unsurprisingly, confidence has been shaken in the impartiality of the pay review body. While claiming to be driven by the recruitment to and retention in the profession, the review body awards have done preciously little to this end.

“It appears that the review body has embraced as unchallengeable the government’s pay policies over the years, leaving doctors to question: what is the point of its existence?”

Members are now being asked to give us their perspective on the future of hospital doctors’ pay in order to inform the association’s position. In a written statement announcing the 2018-19 pay award in July, Secretary of State Matt Hancock signalled the direction of government thinking.

“I am committing to negotiations on a multi-year agreement incorporating contract reform for consultants to begin from 2019/20,” he wrote.

HCSA’s initial view on this plan was stated in a message to members: “His decision to cut an already inadequate DDRB-recommended award to Consultants and Junior Doctors does not bode well for his aims to conclude such a deal. HCSA will certainly not agree to lock hospital doctors into several years of real-terms pay cuts.”