Health committee posts incorrect stat about doctors’ union membership

6 February 2024
What was claimed

40% of consultants are members of the BMA union, which rejected the government’s pay offer.

Our verdict

This figure is too low. About 60% of hospital consultants working for NHS England are members of the BMA union. Some others are members of the HCSA union, which rejected the offer too.

The rejection of the government’s pay offer by consultants is extremely frustrating. Barely more than half of the 40% of consultants who are members of the BMA voted for this but it’s patients who will pay the price as usual. We urgently need both sides round the table. [SB]

A post on X (formerly Twitter) from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee last month claimed that 40% of medical consultants are members of the British Medical Association union (BMA).

This is not correct, as many people on X have noted. The true percentage seems to be about 60%.

The committee told Full Fact that it would not comment on the post, although it confirmed that the initials “SB”, which appear at the end, mean that it was written by the committee chair, the Conservative MP Steve Brine.

All politicians, but especially ministers and select committee chairs, should use statistics accurately so that the public is not misled. And when mistakes happen, they should correct the record as soon as possible.

Honesty in public debate matters

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How many consultants are there?

Consultants are doctors who have completed specialist medical training.  They could be working for the NHS, or privately, or a mixture. They might be qualified but not working at all. Consultants must be on the GMC register in order to work in the UK.

So there are lots of ways to define the consultants we need to count, but in this context it seems best to consider the total number of hospital consultants currently working for NHS England, because it’s this group that’s in dispute with the government.

The latest data shows that there were 60,406 of these consultants working for NHS England in October last year, either full- or part-time (and provisionally 60,643 in November).

How many of them are BMA members?

The BMA told us that 36,362 consultant members were eligible to vote in the ballot on the government’s latest pay offer. It said the vast majority were NHS consultants, along with a small number who were medical academics and public health consultants.

Public health consultants seem to be included in the NHS England workforce data, and the NHS itself does seem to employ senior medical academics.

Including both these groups, the BMA consultant membership represents just over 60% of the consultants working for NHS England towards the end of 2023—not 40%, as the committee’s post claimed.

Where does the 40% come from?

We don’t know where the committee’s figure came from, and it hasn’t told us, but the 23,544 consultant members who voted in the BMA ballot (a 64.8% turnout) amount to about 39% of the 60,406 NHS England consultants in the workforce data. So this may be what Mr Brine had in mind.

Given these numbers, the BMA ballot does not represent a majority of NHS England consultants. Some consultants belong to the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association union (HCSA), however—and they also rejected the government’s pay offer.

We have asked the HCSA how many consultant members it has, and will update this fact check if we receive a reply. But taking the two unions together, it currently isn’t possible to say whether the majority of all NHS England consultants rejected the government’s pay offer or not.

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

Update 8 February 2024

We updated this article to clarify the definition of a consultant.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Steve Brine to request a correction regarding this claim.

We are waiting to hear back from him.

It’s not good enough.

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