Sessional GPs could quit NHS or take industrial action without real-terms pay rise

Sessional GPs could leave the NHS or be forced to take industrial action if they are denied a real-terms pay rise this year, the BMA has warned.

BMA House (Photo: Malcolm Case-Green)

BMA sessional GP committee chair Dr Ben Molyneux told GPonline that below-inflation pay increases would further damage GP morale, and could force doctors to leave for private sector roles.

Dr Molyneux, who is leading a campaign calling for a ‘significant pay award’ for salaried GPs, said that GPs could be tempted to leave the NHS for better working terms and an environment ‘where they feel valued’.

He also warned that salaried GPs could vote to take industrial action alongside other doctors ‘as a last resort’ unless an agreement is reached.

Salaried GPs

In March, the government announced it was planning to increase NHS staff pay by just 1% for 2021/22 despite the huge effort doctors have put in to keep the health service going during the pandemic, which has left 42% of salaried GPs with feelings of depression, anxiety, and burnout.

Although a recommended increase was agreed for salaried GPs as part of the package for general practice under the five-year contract agreement that began in 2019/20, the Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB) has been invited to make recommendations for subsequent years.

Dr Molyneux explained that the 1% proposed by the government was another below-inflation pay rise, at a time when real-terms pay for the average salaried GP in England has fallen by a quarter over the past decade - along with pay for partners.

He highlighted the possible consequences of a failure to reward salaried GPs adequately: ‘It’s only going to have a negative effect on morale, which is already [low]... [and GPs] are feeling fairly particularly attacked by NHS England recently.

‘This is one of the few ways that the government can really directly demonstrate that they care about the workforce. And so the absence of that, and not getting above a 1% pay increase is demoralising.

NHS morale

‘It's demotivating [and] it's pushing sessional GPs into the private sectors and third sectors, where they might feel better valued, when terms and conditions are increasingly looking relatively good. And that's to nobody's benefit.’

Dr Molyneux hoped the campaign would put pressure on the Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB), which offers independent advice on pay, to recommend more than the 1% pay rise offered by the government.

Industrial action

He added that salaried GPs could take part in industrial action, should they not see a significant uplift on the 1%. ‘There's a concurrent campaign for consultants and junior doctors, so… we could regroup and decide as an association, rather than just GPs, what the next step looks like, and what's the appetite among our members,' he said.

‘I know, for example, that the average consultant is much more activated on this issue, and is much more likely to talk about industrial action, and it may well be that salaried GPs feel they want to be part of that in the future… that is part of the conversation we'll have to have.'

Major healthcare unions including the BMA recently urged the government to reconsider its plan to award NHS staff a 1% pay increase - warning that it would drive doctors and others to quit the health service.

Last month official data revealed that the number of salaried GPs grew by 10.2% in the 12 months to March 2021, from 8,671 to 9,560.

Government evidence to the DDRB earlier this year said COVID-19 'has placed a huge strain on both public and NHS finances' and called for pay awards to be 'fair and affordable' amid ongoing economic uncertainty.

The government added: 'In settling the DHSC and NHS budget, the government assumed a headline pay award of 1% for NHS staff. Anything higher would require re-prioritisation.'

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