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GPs left in limbo over possible contract sanctions for industrial action

Exclusive: GPs in some areas are likely to face financial or contractual sanctions if they take industrial action over pensions, while others are unlikely to suffer any ill effects, amid confusion over whether the BMA's day of action constitutes ‘breach of contract'.

Guidance from NHS Employers – issued to HR directors last week – stipulates NHS management boards are allowed to withhold pay from doctors who take industrial action, but was unable to give specific guidance on GP contracts. Of the 26 PCT clusters and 20 LMCs approached by Pulse, five PCT clusters – NHS Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, NHS Berkshire, NHS Derbyshire County, Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral PCT cluster and NHS Bristol – said they would not be docking pay or imposing further sanctions on GP contract holders if urgent services were still provided.

The remainder said they had no final policy or were considering sanctions if there was a breach of contract.

Pulse's survey of 161 GPs found 8% believed their PCO would take contractual or financial action, a further 21% said they were not sure what action would be taken and three in four said they did not think any action would be taken.

In advice sent to HR directors, NHS Employers director Dean Royles stated: ‘An employer is legally entitled to withhold pay for days when staff take part in industrial action.'

A spokesperson for NHS Birmingham and Solihull said: ‘GPs who hold contracts will be expected to fulfil their requirements. Failure to do so could result in imposition of contract sanctions.'

NHS South Essex Cluster said practices that took part in the action ‘may be in breach of their contract' and it was still determining any possible action.

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said there was considerable uncertainty around whether the industrial action constituted a breach of contract: ‘We are supportive, but the debate is over what constitutes sufficient industrial action without jeopardising the contract.'

Dr Katherine Morrison, a GP in East Ayrshire, said locally there had been rumours about financial sanctions: ‘If legally they are allowed to take money off GPs, of course they will do it.'

A spokesperson from NHS Ayrshire and Arran said it ‘was in the process of identifying the implications of this industrial action'.

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