GPs threatened with breach of contract as NHS managers prepare for industrial action
Exclusive: NHS managers have begun drawing up contingency plans to prepare for GPs taking industrial action over pensions, with some warning action could present a ‘significant challenge' and others threatening to pursue breach of contract claims if GPs fail to provide a ‘full range' of services.
The BMA announced last week it is to ballot members on industrial action over the pensions reforms after an emergency council meeting, although it ruled out strike action. GP leaders have refused to discuss the types of industrial action under consideration or timing of a ballot, although last week's GPC meeting is known to have debated craft-specific options and the BMA will begin holding roadshows on the options within three weeks.
But a number of primary care organisations have already started to prepare for possible industrial action, in a bid to minimise disruption.
The Black Country PCT cluster told Pulse it was working on ensuring contingency plans were in place ‘as a matter of urgency', while NHS Grampian and the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire PCT cluster said practices' business continuity plans would be activated in the event of industrial action.
Jim Crichton, director of primary care and mental health services with NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said: ‘We have access to alternative cover arrangements for providing GMS for rare occasions when the normal service is disrupted. We do, however, recognise that industrial action could present a significant challenge depending on the type of action taken.'
Other areas warned GPs that a failure to provide a full service could result in legal action.
Asked how it would respond to local GPs running an ‘emergency only' service as a form of industrial action – an option mooted by some senior BMA figures ahead of last week's meeting – the Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth PCT cluster said: ‘GPs are contracted to provide a full range of services between 8am and 6.30pm – any failure to do so could be regarded as breach of contract'.
An NHS Lanarkshire spokesperson added: ‘It is for the practice to put in place the respective cover arrangements if one or more of the GPs in the practice were unable to be at their workplace for any reason. If they failed to do so, they would be in breach of contract.'
Grassroots GPs backed the BMA's decision to ballot members and suggested a range of possible options for action.
Dr Una Duffy, a GP in Luton, said: ‘The ballot was a good decision but it was long overdue. There has been justifiable anger about pensions and it is frustrating that we have got to this point before the BMA decided to hold the ballot.'
‘It is difficult to think of industrial action that would not affect patients. I would be willing to adopt a non-participation stance regarding CCGs – not participating in any meetings or workshops or anything that involves moving responsibilities away from PCT, as reflected in the Government's health bill.'
Dr Vijayakar Abrol, a GP in Birmingham, said: ‘I would be willing to delay for a couple of weeks the signing of employment support allowance forms, ESA 113, that lead to disability benefits. It would just result in getting reminders and would not affect patient care.'
The BMA meanwhile is mounting a major PR offensive ahead of the ballot, and last week contacted a series of patient groups to try and reassure them that patients would not be affected by any action.
Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of the National Voices charity, confirmed the BMA had approached him requesting a meeting, but said he was ‘uneasy' at the prospect of industrial action.
He said: ‘Whatever they do, if they want to make a point to Government, they are going to be withdrawing their labour in some way and that is going to have an impact on something, whether it be access or on waiting times. There are only so many things that can give.'