GP leaders at the conference overwhelmingly backed calls to ballot the profession on their willingness to take industrial action, and on their willingness to hand in undated resignations unless the government adopts steps to save the profession set out in the GPC's Urgent Prescription for General Practice.
Proposing the motion, Tower Hamlets LMC's Dr Jackie Applebee told the conference: 'How much worse can it get before the government provides any support for general practice. They can always provide more money if the will is there, but is the will there?
'We must hold NHS England to account - they have belatedly started to listen, but the GP Forward View does not hold the lifeline general practice needs right now.
'If not now, when? The junior doctors have shown a principled campaign focusing on patient safety can keep the public onside. We can do the same - let the government know you are willing to take action.'
GPC prescribing subcommittee chair Dr Andrew Green was among a handful of GPs who spoke against the motion: ‘What was the junior doctors’ greatest strength? It was unity.
‘A call for industrial action would expose our disunity – we will not get anywhere near a 98% vote [as the junior doctors did], and that will look like a loss from the beginning.
‘GPs will not sign undated resignations, the risks are too great. I would not risk personal bankruptcy for that and we can’t expect others to. Please don’t expose disunity by voting for this motion.’
But Dr Tim Parker from Shropshire LMC said: ‘We need ammunition – I am prepared to give the [GPC] negotiators my letter of resignation now. We don’t need to be united. Some of us are about to retire – if all of us in our category handed in a letter, that's such a powerful tool.’
Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said: ‘I’ve reflected on the GP Forward View and we’re still in a state of emergency. Practices are dying right now. We need money into core funding right now.
‘Conference, the GP Forward View is not the rescue package we so demanded at the special conference. If this government cared or believed in us, they would stop. Stop making my GPs ill and stop making their staff leave. They would stop raiding GMS and PMS contracts right now. They would stop hyper-regulating us to death.
‘This is contructive dismissal. If we were employed, we’d be in court left, right and centre. They want a new model and they want it whatever the cost to us. Well, guess what – the model isn’t broken, it’s being broken by those who want to break it.
‘We are doctors, we are not boiling frogs. We are GPs and we will stand up for ourselves and what we know to be right.’
GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the vote was not intended to be a threat, but was simply about asking the profession 'where they stand and getting a real idea of what they want us to do and what they're prepared to do'.
‘We need narrative. Juniors had a very clear narrative about the impossibility to do seven days and the unfairness of making Saturday core hours. We need to ensure we develop a narrative if we are to explain this to the public.
‘I am sure you will want us in the meantime to do absolutely everything we can. We will do that in tandem with everything this motion asks for, so I ask you to vote wisely.’
Conference motion in full:
That conference does not accept the General Practice Forward View is an adequate response to the GPC's statement of need within the BMA's Urgent Prescription for General Practice, and considering this to be sufficient grounds for a trade dispute, unless the government agrees to accept the Urgent Prescription within three months of this conference, the GPC should ask the BMA to:
(i) ballot the profession on their willingness to sign undated resignations
(ii) ballot the profession on their willingness to take industrial action
(iii) ballot the profession as to what forms of industrial action they are prepared to take
(iv) produce a report to practices on the options for taking industrial action that doesn't breach their contracts.