'Line in the sand': GPC chair offers olive branch to government but warns GPs ready to fight

Practice teams are exhausted and 'ready to break', BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel has told LMCs - in a speech warning that GPs are ready to take action to defend themselves, but urging the government to reset its relationship with the profession.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel (Photo: BMA)

In her first speech at an LMCs conference as chair of the BMA GP committee for England, Camden GP Dr Jameel said general practice was facing a defining moment.

She said the profession was 'demoralised, broken and exhausted' after rising to the challenge of the biggest public health crisis of a generation in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Jameel, who earlier this month became the first woman elected to chair the BMA GP committee for England, cited results from an indicative ballot of the profession over potential forms of industrial action - warning: 'Today we draw a line in the sand. Enough is enough.'

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Read Dr Farah Jameel's speech in full
BMA ballot: Half of practices ready to quit PCNs

She said results showing that more than half of GPs are prepared to opt out of PCNs, and that many more would take action such as refusing to comply with pay transparency rules or other forms of bureaucracy reflected a profession 'willing to fight' - but she urged the government to work with GPs.

Dr Jameel paid tribute to doctors who had lost their lives in the pandemic - reading out a list of names - and praising the 'momumental' response of general practice to challenges posed by COVID-19 and in delivering an unprecedented vaccination campaign.

She warned that workforce shortages in general practice - BMA estimates show there are now 1,700 fewer fully-qualified full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015 - along with a growing care backlog as the NHS heads into a challenging winter have led to intolerable pressure for many in the profession.

'It has become too much for many of us,' Dr Jameel said. 'I, like many, have had to reduce my sessions. I, like many, have faced abuse from patients and been left scared and disheartened. I, like many, have become overwhelmed with the complexity of need and isolation I see in my community.

Lack of resources

'Every step of the way our desire to help, our energy to serve is hampered by the system we work in and dampened by the restraints of a lack of resources that we so desperately need in order to care for our communities.

'Patients are angry, they feel let down. Healthcare professionals are exhausted, they feel unheard and they also feel let down, and universal healthcare is on its knees. Abuse, aggression and everyday acts of incivility are rising exponentially. Right here, right now is a defining moment for general practice in England.'

The new GP committee chair for England set out a challenge to the government, to sections of the press that have been highly critical of general practice and to the profession to work together to 'build general practice back better' - but also warned that 

She told LMCs: 'My election as the new leader of GPC England represents an opportunity for a reset. It is, naturally, a fresh start for the committee but it also needs to be a fresh start for the profession.

GP workforce

'There is so much work to do immediately and longer term. We need to rebuild our workforce and firmly place wellbeing at the heart of our priorities. We need to give GPs time to see the patients who need them the most, time to lead their teams, time to keep up to date with the revolution in healthcare, and time to look after themselves.

'We need to learn the lessons of the pandemic and work with patients and partner organisations to develop the models of consultation for the future based on a blend of traditional and cutting-edge technology.

'Today, I offer the government and the media the opportunity to participate in this fresh start – to step back from the rhetoric of division, to reflect on the dedication that general practice has shown in the most difficult of circumstances and to demonstrate a willingness to work together to create solutions to this crisis. Let’s work together, let’s build general practice back better.'

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