GPs back hardening BMA stance as pay awards move industrial action closer

GPs have welcomed a hardening of the BMA’s stance on potential industrial action - as pay awards described by doctors as 'an insult' moved the prospect of action closer.

Junior doctors went on strike in 2016 (Photo: Neil Roberts)

Professor Philip Banfield, the BMA’s new chair, warned earlier this month that industrial action by doctors was ‘inevitable’ because of pay cuts and the state of the NHS, in an interview with The Guardian.

NHS pay awards announced this week - slammed as 'insulting' by doctors' leaders because they fall well below inflation and because the government has provided no additional funding to pay for them - have moved the profession closer still to industrial action.

Junior doctors have not been included in the 4.5% pay rise for doctors in 2022/23 because they are subject to a multi-year pay deal that delivers a fixed 2% rise per year. BMA junior doctors' leaders said denying them the rise awarded to other doctors was a 'betrayal' that left them with 'no choice but to press ahead with preparations for a ballot for industrial action'.

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What forms of industrial action could GPs take?

Senior GPs have said they will follow the lead of junior doctors on industrial action. London GP Dr Jackie Applebee, a BMA GP committee member and chair of Doctors in Unite, suggested she would push for industrial action in general practice to support any action by junior doctors.

Dr Applebee added that she was ‘delighted’ by Professor Banfield's strong warning on the prospect of industrial action. She said: 'We have to do something. The time has come and gone to ask the government nicely.'

Historically GPs have been cautious about taking strike action because of their independent contractor status, fearing that they may be found in breach of contract.

But there are forms of action GPs could take, including closing their lists on the grounds of patient safety, declining to comply with CQC inspections or appraisals, opting out of PCNs - in line with a motion backed at the latest BMA annual conference - or writing undated letters of resignation. Any industrial action is forecast to be in spring.

Industrial action

There is widespread anger among GPs about punitive pension tax charges, enhanced access plans, rising workload in the face of COVID-19 backlogs and a GP workforce that remains in decline.

Pressure for industrial action by GPs has been building for months with GPs urging the BMA to ballot the profession on industrial action after NHS England's 'autocratic' decision to impose contract changes for 2022/23.

Midlands GP Dr Grant Ingrams said that pay and conditions for all doctors had been significantly eroded over the past decade.

Doctors' leaders called earlier this year for a programme of 'pay restoration' to reverse cuts of around 25% in real terms for GPs over the past 15 years.

Dr Ingrams added: 'For GPs it is the conditions more than the pay. However unless something is done to change this, there will be no universal general practice in the next decade. If we take industrial action it will be because we care about the NHS and our patients.’

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