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Better support and development for SAS doctors

Proper support and development of SAS will also have benefits for patient safety and employers

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 06 March 2019

Specialty and Associate Specialist (SAS) doctors in the NHS will now have better development opportunities and support, under new measures unveiled by Health Education England (HEE) and NHS Improvement (NHSI). They aim to raise awareness of the role of SAS doctors as “a genuine alternative to the model of a formal training programme leading to consultant posts”, especially in light of SAS doctors’ important role in addressing pressures and gaps at multiple levels in the NHS.

The HEE and NHSI report Maximising the potential: essential measures to support SAS doctors follows evidence that many SAS doctors, who comprise 20% of the medical workforce, experience lack of workplace support; find it hard to move between specialties; have limited access to training; and have reported bullying. The NHS Long Term Plan also articulated the need for greater support for SAS doctors to help ensure that becoming an SAS doctor is an attractive career choice and provides valuable recognition of the role, and noted that this in turn will help meet the needs of patients and the service.


HEE led guidance development in partnership with NHSI, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, NHS Employers, the British Medical Association (BMA) and provider organisations and also involved SAS doctors themselves, their tutors and their employing organisations. Their recommendations for actions to give SAS doctors access to improved support and better development opportunities include:

  • implementing an SAS charter to better understand and address the current challenges;
  • developing an improved data set about SAS doctors;
  • ensuring SAS doctors are offered development opportunities linked to patient need, their experience and career aspirations;
  • exploring how best to support those SAS doctors who wish to return to formal training;
  • consistency of funding for SAS doctors, in terms of geography and in activities funded through SAS tutors, associate deans and/or a nominated individual with responsibility for SAS doctors;
  • exploring how SAS doctors can be involved more effectively by colleges as part of the education process, specifically as educational and clinical supervisors for doctors in training; and
  • exploring the extent to which developments in credentialing can include opportunities to develop SAS doctors.

NHS Employers, which worked with HEE, the BMA, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and NHS England two years ago to produce the SAS doctor development guide, said yesterday that ensuring that SAS doctors receive effective development has benefits not just for the individual doctor but also for patient safety and employers. It noted the good patient experience is strongly associated with a motivated and engaged workforce where every individual has the opportunity to work at their full potential.

HEE director of education and quality, Professor Wendy Reid, said: “We know that SAS doctors make a key contribution to the delivery of care for patients. The challenge now is to make sure that their talent is properly recognised across the system and that they have better support for training and development opportunities.


“We need to improve the environment in which they work and this guidance will help us to make sure better processes are in place to support this key and growing group of staff.”

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