31 July 2023

Supporting SAS doctors to fulfil their potential

The RCP has today (Thursday 11 May) published a new briefing paper, The widest possible pool of talent. This comes as the UK government has announced that NHS England will work with partners to facilitate ways in which specialty and associate specialist (SAS) doctors could work in general practice. The proposal forms part of the delivery plan for recovering access to primary care which was published this week.

SAS doctors make up around a quarter of the medical workforce in hospitals across the country. This is a skilled, diverse and motivated group of doctors: 83% of them have 10 or more years of experience in medicine. They work in non-training senior roles in the NHS, treating and caring for thousands of patients every day, many running their own clinics and working autonomously. 

A year ago, the RCP launched its 2022–2024 strategy for SAS doctors, aiming to identify and support these physicians in their training, leadership and educational needs. A growing number of SAS doctors are motivated by a more flexible career path, geographical stability or a better work-life balance.

The UK medical workforce crisis, evident over the past decade, will only be addressed by drawing on the widest possible pool of talent. SAS doctors could make an important contribution to primary care as long as they and their GP colleagues are supported with the resource, funding and time necessary to ensure patient safety and high-quality care.

Launching the new RCP briefing paper, Dr Jamie Read, RCP SAS lead, said:  

‘We are interested to hear proposals to consider allowing SAS doctors to work in general practice in England and await further detail of how this could work in practice. Support and funding for primary care teams would be needed to ensure SAS doctors can fulfil their potential. And we would need to be sure it wouldn’t have a negative impact on already stretched hospital teams – another reason we need to see the full long term workforce plan as soon as possible.

‘An SAS job can be very rewarding, combining flexibility, stability and work-life balance with the opportunity to build a portfolio career. However, many SAS doctors say they feel isolated. Some struggle to have their workload formally recognised, or to work autonomously. The RCP has piloted local networks for our SAS members and fellows in Wales and the south-west of England because we believe that sharing experiences and ideas will build a stronger, more supportive community of practice for these doctors. Today’s RCP briefing paper outlines discussions from our recent network meetings in the south-west of England.

‘We should support our colleagues to break down barriers and achieve wider system change which means ensuring they have protected time for non-clinical work and career development opportunities as part of a multi-professional team.’