GPs ballot for strike action over seeing patients face-to-face

·4-min read
Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid

GPs will be balloted about taking industrial action over a Government plan to boost the number of patients seen face-to-face.

Last week ministers announced a £250m fund for GP practices, to help them improve patient access.

Under the NHS Plan for GPs and Patients, practices were told they must “respect preferences” for in-person appointments and should use the money to extend opening hours or offer walk-in consultations.

And surgeries were warned they would be named and shamed if they failed to deliver.

But on Thursday the British Medical Association’s GP committee voted to reject the plan - and said members would now be balloted on industrial action.

Such actions would see GPs refuse to comply with specific contractual requirements - to publish their earnings, and to oversee the Covid vaccination exemption process.

In addition, the union is encouraging doctors not to engage with other aspects of the plan - such as providing information for league tables.

Before the pandemic, about 80 per cent of consultations took place in a doctor’s surgery. However, the figure was just 57 per cent last month.

'Crisis in general practice'

Dr Richard Vautrey, the chairman of the BMA GP Committee, said: "GPs have been left with no alternative but to take this action.

"All efforts to persuade the Government to introduce a workable plan that will bring immediate and longer-term improvement for doctors and their patients, have so far come to nought.

"The Government has completely ignored our requests for a reduction in bureaucracy to allow us to focus more on patient care, and we are therefore encouraging doctors to withdraw from this bureaucracy themselves.

"The ultimate outcome should be to end the current crisis in general practice, to properly support practices to manage their workload pressure, including safely getting through the backlog of care caused by the pandemic and deliver a safe service to patients, allowing time to create an agreed long-term plan to make general practice sustainable for the future."

'Provocative plans backfired'

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said: “This shows the government’s deliberately provocative plans to name and shame GPs has backfired.

“Sajid Javid must now dial down the rhetoric and get round the table with doctors and patient groups to find a way forward.”

“It would be unforgivable if, as we enter a winter crisis, people are unable to access their local GP.”

It comes as a damning report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) warned that the current system of health and social care was “not working” for staff, nor those who depend on it.

The watchdog raised concerns that care homes are on the brink of collapse, with staff abandoning jobs in favour of work in pubs and restaurants.

The CQC said Britain was facing a “tsunami” of unmet need, with growing numbers of elderly people likely struggling to access the care they need, without major reform.

Their report also warned that more than half of Accident & Emergency departments are not good enough - with 53 per cent classed as inadequate or requiring improvement.

And it raised concerns about patient access to GPs, with too many people left struggling to get the appointments they wanted, when practices moved to a more remote model of care during the pandemic.

It added: "Findings from our inspections have noted issues with telephone systems, resulting in long hold times, people being cut off while waiting, and repeated engaged tones causing frustration for people trying to get through."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “GPs have done phenomenal work done through the most difficult 18 months in living memory.

"We want patients to be able to see their GP promptly and in the way they choose. Our plan will improve access and drive up face to face appointments – it includes providing a further £250 million to GPs in order to boost capacity.

“We are also cutting bureaucracy and GP teams will be given targeted support which will take pressure off staff and free up their time so it can be spent with patients.

“The number of full time equivalent doctors in general practice increased between March 2016 and March 2021 and, last year, a record-breaking number of doctors started training as GPs.”

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