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The Royal College of Ophthalmologists welcomes the agreement on the new SAS contracts

30 March 2021

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists welcomes the contract reforms approval and introduction of the new ‘specialist grade’.  Specialty and Associated Specialists doctors account for 30% of the ophthalmic workforce and are exceptionally important in the development and delivery of care in the Hospital Eye Service.

The new contract will provide an opportunity for career progression for highly experienced specialty doctors and will help to recruit more to this career grade as well as motivating and retaining senior doctors.  Never before has this been more important than now with the increasing demand placed on ophthalmology and the resulting backlog of patients due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Dipen Boghani, Chair, RCOphth SAS Group said, ‘I am delighted that the new contracts have been approved. SAS doctors are a diverse group of the doctors with wide range of skills experience and specialties.  This new grade will help to recruit, motivate and retain senior doctors, and the development opportunities will contribute to making this a positive and attractive career choice.’

The new contract provides many career enhancements, recognising the skills and competencies of senior SAS doctors and the contribution they make overall to ophthalmology services; as well as the formal recognition of development for SAS doctors which will hopefully overcome the often cited limited progression opportunities and poor morale within the grade.

Dipen continued, ‘This new role provides the opportunity of greater autonomy and will support SAS doctors to reach and work at their highest potential, benefiting not only the good patient care they provide but also overall to ophthalmology services.  The new specialist role should inspire SAS doctors to seek further development and aim to achieve senior roles throughout their careers.’

Stakeholders across the system have contributed to defining the scope of practice of the role and responsibilities, how the role differs from existing medical roles and the benefits the new role will offer to doctors, employers and patients.

The benefits of the package in Wales and England

  • Multiple-year pay increase of 3% investment per year over three years to support contract reform.
  • New senior SAS grade to create a clear career framework and give senior doctors the recognition they deserve.
  • Individual choice for SAS doctors currently on national contracts of whether to move to the new contracts.
  • New safeguards to protect SAS doctors and their work-life balance.
  • Flatter pay scale to better reward SAS doctors throughout their careers and help reduce the gender pay gap.
  • Increased on-call supplements in line with consultants.
  • Guidance for a new SAS advocate role to promote and support SAS doctors’ health and wellbeing.
  • Enhanced pay and provisions for shared parental leave and child bereavement leave.
  • An additional day of annual leave after seven years in the grade in England.
  • Non-recurrent ringfenced funding dedicated to SAS improvement and development available at trust level in England, and at national level in Wales

 Whilst the RCOphth SAS Group members and the wider SAS community have welcomed the new grade, there have been some concerns that there is no incentive for NHS employers to develop these posts as well as a potential lack of automatic progression for those more senior doctors.  It is hoped that local employers will see the benefits of such posts in meeting service requirements.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the RCOphth SAS Group