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GP pay may be docked over pension action

Exclusive: GPs who take industrial action over pensions should be prepared to have their pay docked by primary care organisations, and could risk contractual action or even contract termination, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum has warned.

In a frank assessment of the dangers posed to practices, Dr Meldrum also warned GPs could face retribution in future pay awards for what would be the first industrial action by doctors since 1975.

The BMA is currently balloting members on whether to take industrial action over the Government's pension reforms, with a decision expected on 30 May, a day after the ballot closes.

Doctors at the BMA's roadshow last week in Stansted, Essex, expressed concern that they would lose pay if they went ahead with industrial action, which would see GPs suspend all routine work for 24 hours.

Dr Meldrum said: ‘For GP practices, some payments from the PCT could be withheld – the equivalent of a day's pay.'

A BMA spokesperson later added: ‘We haven't gone into more detail about the kinds of payments that might be withheld, mainly because the law is untested, but obviously some elements of GP pay would be very hard for PCOs to withdraw – such as payments through the QOF, which depend on annual measures of quality.'

Dr Meldrum also warned there was a ‘possibility' of PCTs using the day of action as a chance to ‘deal' with problematic practices by citing a breach
of contract, and urged GPs to liaise with PCTs before taking action, which would be likely
to take place in the week of 25 June.

He admitted ‘the Government could make life harder in areas like pay awards' if doctors took action.

A BMA spokesperson said the chance of contract termination was ‘very low', but warned: ‘Commercially, the risk cannot be ruled out. For GMS contracts there would usually be a period of "grace" before proceeding to termination.

‘In the very unlikely event a PCO issued a breach or remedial notice to a GMS contractor for intending to participate in industrial action, the practice is likely to be given an opportunity to consider whether or not to continue with the action.'

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said: ‘I'm sure some PCTs will use this as a breach of contract. If the vote is positive, there will be definitive legal guidance from the PCTs.

‘But, as with any other guidance, saying "PCTs should not be able to" is not the same as saying "PCTs will not try it on".'

Dr Paul Roblin, secretary of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, said ministers were hoping to sow doubt among GPs: ‘I think it is an option for the Government to advise PCTs via NHS Employers to maximise use of their powers and create uncertainty.'

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