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Is a parting of ways inevitable? The partners' perspective

What the findings of our survey this week could mean for GP partners.

By Gareth Iacobucci

What the findings of our survey this week could mean for GP partners.

Pulse's revelation that a rebel group of salaried GPs and locums are planning to split from the BMA and join a rival union has sent shockwaves through the profession. This week, an exclusive Pulse survey lays bare the extent of the divisions between employers and employees – but also finds a common yearning for a unified profession.

Here we ask - what do the results tell us about how salaried GPs are viewing the future? You can also read about the implications for GP partners here...

There is far more that unites the profession than separates it, Dr Laurence Buckman insists in Pulse this week. Our survey results suggest partners at least are in agreement.

A clear majority (70%) told Pulse the formation of a rival union for salaried GPs and locums would be damaging to general practice.

But partners remain optimistic that it is not too late to avert disaster. Two thirds believe a formal split is not inevitable and that fractured relations between the two camps can still be repaired.

Most partners believe the BMA can continue to represent both employees and employers, but acknowledge the association may have to reform itself first.

Dr Adrian Midgley, a GP partner in Plymouth, is among the 84% of GPs who think the BMA can represent both sides, and points out that representative bodies for other professions do manage such a dual-purpose role.

‘Far from being totally improper, the solicitors, the law society and accountants do the same. It seems quite logical to me,' he says.

There's no doubt any form of separation would deal a huge blow to the partner-dominated GPC – which has quickly moved to reassure sessional GPs that they take their grievances seriously to head off a possible split.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman and Dr Vicky Weeks, chair of the sessional GPs subcommittee, both acknowledge the pressing need to tackle the divisions within general practice head on.

They will to set up a working group to create better representative structures within the BMA and at LMC level, and to ensure the interests of salaried and locum GPs are ‘properly represented' in negotiations with Government.

But many GP partners seem to feel they should go further.

A fair chunk of partners feel the BMA is not doing enough for its sessional GP members – 40%, compared with 30% who feel it is doing enough. And in one of the more surprising results from our survey, 54% of GP partners said the BMA should offer salaried GPs and locums their own BMA committee, on a level with the GPC.

That's something Dr Buckman has vigorously opposed, knowing it would dilute the GPC's influence, but our findings suggest he could be swimming against the tide.

Dr Weeks admits the BMA has discussed the possibility of a separate committee, but believes it is more important to maintain unity by giving sessional doctors the strongest possible negotiating rights with the DH.

‘If you go down a route of having an independent committee, you'd have to be assured that you actually had negotiating rights with the DH. Otherwise we're not effective,' she says.

On many of the questions, partners seems to have taken a strong view one way or another, but in one respect they are badly divided. While as many as 62% feel the BMA model contract should be renegotiated, there is no consensus on what its flaws are and how it could be changed.

Some 21% felt it was too weighted to partners, but that was outweighed by the 26% who thought it was biased towards salaried doctors.

On other potential contractual changes, the GPC is keeping its cards close to its chest.

Dr Weeks refuses to be drawn on whether the GPC's discussions on altering seniority pay to level the playing field for sessional doctors will be accelerated in light of the potential split.

Yet she will be only too aware of the mood in the profession for action.

Is a parting of ways inevitable for partners and salaried GPs? Is a parting of ways inevitable for partners and salaried GPs?

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