GPs will vote on a potential strike if ministers fail to back down from changes to their contracts. The British Medical Association (BMA), which has already paralyzed the NHS with a series of devastating junior doctors strikes, has now said primary care could also be the target of crippling industrial action.
GPs in England earn an average of £112,000/year and generally work the equivalent of three days a week.
If the dispute goes ahead, it could bring further chaos to Brits struggling to see their family doctor.
The BMA said its GP members had overwhelmingly voted to ballot for industrial action if ‘disastrous’ changes to their working contract, which they claim threaten patient safety, are not reviewed in the coming months.
GPs from the doctors union are angry about a new contract imposed upon them by Government and the NHS are threatening potential industrial action if it doesn’t change
Official figures show GPs’ average pay spiked during the pandemic shooting up about £10,000 to almost £112,000 in the latest reporting period
The changes have been billed as helping end Brits hated 8am scramble for appointments.
Practices must ensure patients get an appointment or referral on the first time they contact their GP under the new terms.
But family doctors argue the new contract doesn’t come with any additional funding to help surgeries deal with rising bills and staff salaries that need to be boosted amid the cost-of-living crisis.
It’s not the first time the BMA’s GPs have threatened industrial action in the contract dispute.
But at an emergency meeting of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee in England (GPCE), 98 per cent of members voted in favour to begin the process of entering into a formal dispute with Government.
If the Government doesn’t back down, this could see a ballot gauging the profession’s appetite for industrial action sent out.
Such ‘indicative’ ballots can include strike action as an option but medics could also say they support industrial action such as working to rule and refusing to do overtime.
The GPCE has been warning about potential industrial action for months, with the rhetoric growing after the Government imposed its new contract on April 1.
BMA officials have been asking to meet with Health Secretary Steve Barclay to negotiate but claim such calls have been answered.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair of GPCE, said: ‘Today’s vote is an opportunity for the Government to put right this disastrous contract and to secure the future of patient safety.
‘No GP wants to have to consider taking industrial action – and it’s something we still hope to avoid – but the committee has been flatly ignored each time we’ve explained why this contract isn’t workable and needs to be urgently renegotiated.
‘General practice is under unprecedented pressure, and these contract changes will only make things worse by taking GPs away from their patients when they need us the most.
‘This is a time to support the health service, not wave through policies that only pummel us further into the ground.’
The new contract, which was imposed this month, slashes the number of targets GPs must meet, so they have less bureaucracy and can focus more on patient care.
It also says practices must adopt a modern telephone system when their current contract ends so callers are placed in a queue and not met with an infuriating engaged tone.
They must also ensure they have granted patients access to their medical records online by the end of October at the latest.
If GPs do commit to a form of industrial action, they will be just the latest health workers in England to do, with nurses and junior doctors, amongst others, also having taken to the picket lines in recent months.
It comes as official figures suggest that more than 51million GP appointments lasted five minutes or less last year as patients were ‘rushed’ out the door.
Patients are typically offered ten-minute consultations but more than one in six (17.2 per cent) were ended after less than half that time.
There were just 27,558 full-time equivalent, fully qualified GPs working in England last month, down 1.6 per cent on the 18,000 recorded in June 2021. It was down 5.3 per cent on the more than 29,000 working in June 2017
While the number of fully qualified GPs in England has overall fallen the patient population has risen to 62million, meaning more Brits competing for fewer doctors
Campaigners warn doctors who cut visits short risk missing symptoms and storing up more serious problems for the future.
The Royal College of General Practice has called for standard GP appointments to be at least 15 minutes by 2030, with longer appointments for those with complex needs.
Many Brits are familiar with the fight to get appointments with their family doctor — with many stuck in lengthy phone queues or simply unable to get through at all.
And those who manage to secure an appointment are facing battles to see their GP face-to-face.
Experts have blamed the crisis, which has seen patient groups describe the service as like a ‘stretched elastic band ready to snap’, on a rising population and shrinking workforce.
Many family doctors are choosing to retire in their 50s, move abroad or leave to work in the private sector because of complaints about soaring demand, paperwork and a toxic environment.
It means the number of patients per fully qualified GP has rocketed to its highest-ever level, with an average of 2,273 people scrambling for appointments with each family doctor – an increase of 15 per cent in five years, according to analysis published in February.