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At the heart of general practice since 1960

BMA may use 100 year old war chest to fund PR campaign

By Lilian Anekwe

The BMA is considering using a 100 year old fighting fund to launch a major PR campaign against anti-GP Government spin, Pulse can reveal.

We told last week how after months of negative headlines about GP pay and a constant bombardment of leaks and spin, the GPC had approved in principal plans for a campaign, with print advertisements in national and local newspapers, patient petitions and action by both individual GP practices and local medical committees, being discussed.

The strategy will be masterminded by the GPC's new communications group, whose chair, Dr Prit Buttar, told Pulse the group had vowed to fight ‘until the war is won'.

Dr Buttar said he hoped the campaign, which could start next month, would be funded by The General Practitioners' Defence Fund Limited's multi-million pound war chest, which dates back to 1913 and was set up to fund the representational and political activities of GPs.

Funded through a voluntary levy on the incomes of all NHS GPs in the UK and collected by Local Medical Committees (LMCs), the Company's shareholders are the voting members of the BMA's General Practitioners Committee, and it has its own board of directors. In 2006, the fund was valued at £5.3m.

Dr Buttar, a GP in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, said: ‘It's going to be a very long term campaign with no definite endpoint, and it will be punctuated by short term campaigns, like the one we plan to launch in the spring, with follow-up events later in the year.

‘It's important that instead of waiting for someone else to do things, people can get on with things themselves. We are trying to encourage people to be proactive.'

However, the scale of the task is huge, with full page ads in national newspapers costing up to £50,000. Although the fighting fund seems large, the Department of Health spent £77m on advertising, marketing and communications last year alone, before taking into account free headlines from friendly newspaper barons.

But Dr Kailash Chand, a GP in Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire, said the BMA move was long overdue.

‘The message has got to be loud and clear, that general practice in the form our patients know it is under threat of extinction – that's the reality.'

And branding expert Jonathan Gabay said: ‘‘It sounds like a battle that's impossible to win but that's the thing that they have in their favour. It's a David vs Goliath battle, and that goes a long way with the general public.'

‘The key message they have to get across is that by putting GPs under more pressure and forcing them to open for longer, the Government are short changing the other person in the contract: the patient.'

BMA: planning PR fightback BMA: planning PR fightback

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