BMA restores formal talks with NHS England after five-month break

The BMA’s GP committee has agreed to return to formal meetings with NHS England after a five-month standoff, but has warned there is still ‘a long way to go’ to repair relations.

BMA House
BMA House

In May, GPC England members voted to pause all formal meetings with NHS England and demanded an explanation over a ‘tone deaf' letter that instructed GPs to offer face-to-face appointments for all patients.

The BMA requested a meeting with new NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard last month to discuss how it could restore formal meetings, describing her appointment as the perfect opportunity to ‘reset its relationship’.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey confirmed talks had now restarted with NHS England after 59% of committee members backed the move at an emergency meeting last week.

GP committee

Dr Vautrey said GPs had 'pushed themselves to breaking point' to maintain services during the pandemic and that a failure to recognise their contribution by NHS England and the government had left the profession 'frustrated, angry and disappointed', and triggered the decision to break off talks.

He said: ‘Whilst we have seen some initial signs of progress, including the scrapping of the restrictive and unhelpful standard operating procedure (SOP) and the suspension of PCN service specifications...there is still much work to be done in proving that both the government and NHS England value family doctors and their teams.

‘However, if we are not at the table, it is significantly harder for us to advocate for grassroots GPs and push for changes that secure the best for our members at a time that is so crucial for the profession – a point that was clearly articulated during discussions with the committee this week.

‘NHS England and the government have a long way to go in persuading the profession that they are committed to addressing the crisis in general practice and will support doctors and their teams who are at their wits' end.’

The Leeds GP warned that the BMA also expected ministers and health bosses to ‘promote and defend’ those working in general practice amid criticism from the public and ‘sustained attacks’ from certain sections of the media.

Patient abuse

Last week, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul urged the government to ‘demonstrate publicly visible responsibility’ for the ongoing blood test tube crisis amid ‘unfair complaints, anger and criticism’ aimed at GPs. Surgeries have also faced unfair criticism from sections of the media around access to face-to-face appointments.

Dr Vautrey added: ‘To be clear, and reflecting the views of the committee, this cannot be ‘business as usual’. We must see far more evidence of action by the new NHSE & I leadership to address the serious situation we now see in practices and other services that GPs work in, and we will do all that we can to hold them and government to account.’

A recent MDU survey revealed that four in five GPs believe abuse from patients has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with delayed treatment and high demand for appointments fuelling frustration.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said last month that Ms Pritchard - the first female to land the role - had to demonstrate a willingness to 'stand up to government' and show that she is 'on the side of hard-working healthcare professionals'.

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