Exclusive: NHS England calls for GPs to cover striking ambulance workers in pay dispute

NHS England in London is asking GPs to cover for striking ambulance service workers when they take action over pay next week.

Ambulance strike: NHS England seeks GP cover
Ambulance strike: NHS England seeks GP cover

CCGs in the capital have been asked to supply one GP each as part of a wider drive to support the NHS’s emergency response when health workers take action next Thursday.

An email marked ‘urgent’ sent by NHS England London to all CCGs and seen by GP asked for GPs to be identified to NHS England.

It said: 'Regarding the planned industrial action by health unions on 29 January 2015. London Ambulance Service (LAS) is requesting the support of one GP from each CCG across London, to provide emergency cover during during the strikes.’

Emergency response

A spokeswoman for NHS England London said: ‘We have written to chief executives of all London trusts and CCGs to ask for support in coordinating the NHS emergency response for the capital, ahead of the anticipated strike action by health unions on 29 January.’

Up to 500,000 union members working in the NHS in England plan to strike next Thursday in a dispute over pay. Ambulance workers will strike for 24 hours from midnight, with other workers taking 12 hours' action from midday. Members of the Royal College of Midwives will strike for 2 hours.

Unions will follow the strike with a work to rule from Friday 30 January until 24 February and further strike action on 25 February.

Unions involved in the action include Unison, Unite and GMB.

Industrial action was called after the government refused a recommended 1% pay rise for all staff.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GPs are not sat around twiddling their thumbs, but working hard providing services to their patients, so if a GP takes on this additional work at such short notice they will in turn need someone to backfill their own heavy and challenging workload.

He added: 'GPs regularly respond to patients in emergency situations and some have very specialised skills in this area, but they are not paramedics.'

Dr Jackie Applebee, who represents GP members of the Unite union on GPC, said GPs should not undermine other heath workers in their campaign for better pay. 

'While I fully understand that the public will be concerned by the lack of ambulance cover, the government could easily avert the action by agreeing to pay health workers properly for the job that they do', she said.

'Many cannot afford to live in London. If healthworkers' pay does not improve, people will leave and there won't be a skilled workforce to look after the public when they are ill.'  

'If GPs cover the strikes it will undermine the action of our health worker colleagues. GPs are busy enough trying to do our own jobs, I don't imagine many would have time to cover London Ambulance Service work, or indeed be up to date in the specialist skills that paramedics have.'

LAS has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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