Consultants vote against automatic ballot on new contract

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  07 Mar 2017

Consultants have voted against automatically holding a collective ballot of consultants and senior trainees on a new contract.

Instead, consultants could decide individually whether they wish to accept the new contract or remain on the existing consultant contract. Likewise, senior trainees, once they became consultants, could choose between the 2003 consultant contract and the new contract.

At the BMA’s consultants’ conference in London on Tuesday 28 February, delegates voted against a motion calling on the association’s Consultants Committee to neither approve nor accept any new contract “without balloting appropriate branches of the BMA membership.”

In his opening speech to the conference, Keith Brent, chair of the committee, said, “A scenario has arisen whereby the best possible terms for both present and future consultants would involve an individual choice of contract rather than a collective ballot.”

Brent explained that the Consultants Committee had decided at a special meeting in January that it would consider putting a contract choice to individual members rather than to a ballot.

The BMA has been in discussions with the government about a new consultant contract since 2013. Talks stalled in 2014 but resumed in September 2015.[1] Negotiations are ongoing, and an agreement on a new contract has not yet been reached.

Commenting on the proposed motion, Brent said, “The reality is if you ask us to go for a vote on a ballot, I don’t think there will be a ballot anyway because we won’t get an offer. It’s not that the offer will be worse: there simply won’t be an offer, [and] the negotiations will cease.”

He added, “Employers will then release local trusts to implement whatever contract they wish for new starters, and of course there is nothing that can be done, unless you feel that existing consultants will take indefinite industrial action to stop a contract being imposed on people that are not them.”

Nick Flatt, chair of the BMA North West Consultants Committee, proposed the motion that called on the BMA Consultants Committee not to accept a new contract without a ballot of consultants and ST3 (third year of specialty training) juniors and above. He warned that if consultants voted against the motion they would disenfranchise current and future consultants, as well as junior doctors, “but most ironically of all you will be voting against democracy.”

However, Phillip De Warren-Penny, a consultant psychiatrist and BMA trained negotiator, said that passing the motion would tie the hands of BMA negotiators “and prevents us as negotiators from releasing any full positive potential of any contract negotiation.”

Rob Harwood, deputy chair of the Consultants Committee, warned that NHS Employers had said that any contract offer would be “downgraded if we decide to go in favour of a ballot rather than an individual choice.”

Kitty Mohan, former co-chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, told the conference that the committee supported the motion to hold a ballot. “JDC are concerned about democracy, and they are concerned about the precedent that this may set, and these are things we would like you to consider,” Mohan said.

“This isn’t about giving the government a bloody nose; we don’t believe you are pulling up a ladder here. But JDC would support this motion, and therefore I do.”

A spokesman for NHS Employers said, “NHS Employers and the BMA remain in formal negotiations on the options updating the consultant doctors’ contract.

“Although agreement has not yet been reached, NHS Employers remains committed to continuing to work with the BMA to reach a mutually acceptable outcome to this process. It is unwise for any party to prejudge the outcome of these ongoing and constructive discussions.”


  1. Rimmer A. What is happening with the consultant contract negotiations? BMJ Careers Nov 2016. [Link]

Abi Rimmer BMJ Careers

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