Practices have been sent details of an indicative vote asking whether they are prepared to participate in a collective closure of practice lists in response to the failure of NHS England’s GP Forward View to deliver resources to sustain the service.
GPs are being asked by the BMA whether they are prepared to temporarily suspend new patient registrations or apply to their local commissioner for formal list closure as a form of industrial action.
The decision to ballot the profession was agreed by LMC representatives at their annual conference in Edinburgh in May.
GP industrial action
In a letter to the profession, acting GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘GPC England has been asked to ballot practices as to whether GPs in England are prepared to collectively close their practice lists. Such action would constitute industrial action, and with significant implications on GPs as independent contractors.’
He added: ‘GPC England needs a clear understanding of the views of all GP practices on this issue, and I would therefore urge you to ensure that your practice takes part in the ballot by Thursday 10 August 2017.’
Practices are being sent details from the Electoral Reform Society on how to vote in the online ballot.
If practices vote 'yes' to action in the indicative ballot, GPC will ask the BMA council to review the results and consider a formal ballot.
Breach of contract
An accompanying FAQ document explains that the ballot is of practices rather than individual GPs, and recommends partners meet to agree their vote. While liability for any decision lies with partnerships, the BMA encouraged practices to involve sessional GPs in the decision.
The document warned that as contractors, practices could face breach notices if any action is deemed a breach of contract. It said: ‘There is a risk that temporary suspension of new registrations for the purposes of taking industrial action may be deemed as a breach of contract. However there is no case law in this regard, which means definitive advice is difficult to offer.’
It also said that under the regulations, NHS England has the power to allocate patients to a practice and the practice cannot refuse, ‘so it is likely that you would have to continue to register new patients’.
Proposing the LMC conference motion calling for GPs to be balloted on collective list closure earlier this year, London GP Dr Jackie Applebee urged the profession to have the courage to take action, asking: 'If not now, when?'
She pointed to BMA polling showing that four out of five GPs now say their workload is unmanageable, and urged the profession to back collective list closure to manage workload and protect patient services.
Dr Applebee acknowledged that practices collectively closing their lists would undermine access for some patients in the short term, but warned that in the current climate GPs could not take on more patients safely.
Polling by GPonline last month suggested that more than half of GPs would be prepared to take part in a collective closure of practice lists.