BMA polls GPs over withdrawing work or quitting NHS amid mounting abuse

The BMA has launched a poll asking GPs whether they are prepared to quit the NHS, reduce working hours or take other action as the association demands more government support amid rising abuse.

BMA House (Photo: Malcolm Case-Green)

The BMA poll makes clear it is not a ballot that could lead directly to action - but says it is seeking to determine what action general practice as a whole may be willing to take 'if there is no satisfactory response' from government amid rising abuse and intense workload.

It asks whether GPs would be prepared to 'leave the NHS as a response to the current crisis', or 'stop providing any remote consultations such as telephone or video and only do face-to-face consultations'.

GPs are also asked whether they would 'be prepared to refuse to take part in your next appraisal' - a step that would be in breach of their contract and other regulations - or to 'reduce your number of sessions'.

GPs under pressure

The survey comes after sustained pressure on general practice amid intense workload, media campaigns demanding increased access to face-to-face appointments and a surge in abuse and attacks on practice staff.

A GP in Manchester was reportedly left with a fractured skull in September after a violent attack on staff at a practice in Openshaw, and GPs have reported rising abuse throughout the pandemic.

Comments from senior government ministers including health and social care secretary Sajid Javid have added to pressure - with Mr Javid criticised last month for saying in parliament that it was 'high time' GPs provided face-to-face appointments to all patients who wanted them now that the UK was 'almost back to completely normal'.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall warned MPs last month that face-to-face appointments for all patients who want them was simply 'unachievable' in the face of GP shortages and rising demand.

GP workload

Criticism of general practice has come despite the profession delivering record numbers of appointments. General practice delivered 152m appointments in the six months to August this year - 1% up from the same period in 2019 - alongside more than 30m additional appointments as part of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

An introduction to the BMA poll says that in recent months 'reports of patient abuse and aggression toward GPs and practice staff have increased, at the same time as pressures in general practice have reached very high levels'.

It highlights that demands for more face-to-face access have come despite government guidance continuing to demand that 'practices ensure social distancing and make use of remote triage/consultations to protect patients and staff'.

The poll says the BMA has called for the government to 'enable and support general practice over the coming winter, to work with us to implement long-term solutions to the issues facing general practice and to condemn any abuse or violence targeted at NHS staff'.

It sets out specific demands the BMA has made of the government, including a call for 'clear public backing for GPs', urgent investment and a reduced bureaucracy, as well as stronger sentencing for those who assault NHS staff and a pledge to work with the BMA on a national campaign against abuse of NHS staff.

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