The contract for Speciality Doctors and Associate Specialists (SAS) was introduced in 2008.

As part of the negotiations it was agreed from 31 March 2008 the old Associate Specialist Grade was to be closed to new entrants. Eligible doctors were allowed to apply for personal regrading during a window of opportunity which ended on 31 March 2009.

[Personal regrading to the Associate Specialist (AS) grade is non-transferrable between employing organisations, as it is directly linked to the post in which the doctor’s application for regrading was approved.]

Fundamental to the new contract is the requirement for doctors to participate in job planning and appraisal - which will extend and develop their skills base - enabling them to progress through pay thresholds.

A New Contract for SAS Doctors/Dentists

SAS Contract Reform

The Department of Health (NI) together with the British Medical Association, the Department of Health and Social Care (England), as well as the Department of Health (Wales) have been working together since February 2020 to formally negotiate a revised Specialty Doctor grade and introduce a new Specialist Grade.

In January 2021, an agreement was reached for a reformed specialty doctor contract and a new specialist contract. 

The BMA(NI) SAS Committee endorsed the contract and agreed to ballot their membership on the framework agreement.

The referendum will run between Monday April 26 and Monday 17 May, only BMA members will be able to vote in the referendum. Details on how to vote will be shared with BMA members by Civica via email. Further details are available on the BMA website.

Should the BMA (NI) ballot indicate acceptance of the Framework Agreement, the new contracts will apply to all new staff to the SAS grades from the 1 April 2021.  Existing SAS doctors (including those on closed SAS grades) who are employed on national terms and conditions of service will be given the option to transfer to the new terms and conditions or remain on their current TCS[1]. The Specialty doctor 2008 TCS will become closed to new entrants on the 1st April 2021. The Associate Specialist 2008 contract closed to new entrants on 1 April 2009 and other SAS grades were closed to new entrants from 31 March 2008.

The Framework Agreement sets out the changes to the pay framework and the terms and conditions of service that the 2021 Specialty Doctor and Specialist Contract will adopt that employers, BMA(NI) and the Department of Health (NI) are agreeing to implement over the period of the agreement and going forward.

Key reforms

Specialist Grade

The introduction of a new grade named the Specialist grade, will provide an opportunity for progression for highly experienced specialty doctors.  The introduction of the role will hope to recruit, motivate and retain senior doctors and contribute to SAS grades being a positive and fulfilling career choice. The creation of these senior roles will be driven by employer need to meet service requirements and will be advertised for competitive entry through local recruitment processes. 

Pay structure

A reformed Specialty Doctor pay structure to move from 11 point pay scale to a 5 point pay scale. The new pay structure will enable SAS doctors to access the top of the pay scale more quickly than the current system, increasing the career average earnings.

Pay progression

A new pay progression system that will link progression to the development of skills, competencies and experience through the processes of job planning, appraisal and mandatory training. Pay progression will no longer be automatic and will only be achieved where the required standards have been met.

Health and Wellbeing

A number of safeguards and additional provisions to support the health and wellbeing of SAS doctors.

Changes to TCS

A number of changes to modernise the terms and conditions of service to make sure that they are fit for purpose under the changing NHS to support the demands of patient care and to ensure services can be delivered.

[1] While the Framework Agreement sets out a choice period of 1 April to 30 September 2021, the Department of Health has agreed an extension to this period to the 31st October in recognition of the delay in receiving final approvals of the proposed terms and conditions.

Guidance Literature

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