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Independents' Day

Rebel GPs flock to rival union

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: General practice is on the brink of being formally split in two with salaried GPs and locums preparing to join up in droves with a rebel union.

As many as two-thirds of sessional GPs are planning to throw their lot in with the Medical Practitioners' Union following moves to establish it as a formal rival to the BMA, our survey of more than 500 GPs reveals.

GP leaders are still struggling to respond to the news in Pulse's last issue that the National Association of Sessional GPs is forging formal links with the MPU – a division of Britain's biggest union, Unite.

Our survey reveals moves for the MPU to represent sessional GPs against principals have intensified fears over the growing split in general practice, with strong calls from both sides for contractual changes to address the acute shortages of partnerships.

Pulse today launches a new campaign - One Voice – calling for urgent action to help the two sides reconcile their differences. We are publishing a statement calling for unity and pushing for contract changes to promote partnerships, a BMA vote on improving representation of sessional GPs and a special GP conference.

Almost three-quarters of GPs told our survey the growing split was damaging, with a majority of partners as well as sessional GPs arguing the BMA must take urgent action.

But while most partners believe it will be possible to maintain a unified profession, a strong majority of sessional GPs believe a formal split is now inevitable.

Dr Caroline Graas, a salaried GP in Formby, Merseyside, is one of those considering joining the MPU: ‘If they could do better than the BMA I would become a member. You need alternatives. At the moment, it is either the BMA or nothing.'

More than 80% of GPs argued the GMS contract should incentivise partnerships. And 54% of GP partners, and 85% of sessional GPs, said the BMA should set up a new committee for salaried GPs and locums, on a level with the GPC.

The BMA is now launching a new working group to try to strengthen internal representation of sessional GPs - who make up more than 40% of the total GP workforce - and their position on LMCs.

Dr Vicky Weeks, chair of the GPC sessional GP subcommittee, said the group's make-up was being finalised, but it would include members of the representation sub-committee, sessional GP sub-committee and BMA council: ‘One of our principal problems is the representation through LMC is still poor.'

But Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the GPC, said the BMA was unlikely to bow to calls for a separate committee for sessional doctors, saying it wouldn't be clear who the new committee would negotiate with.

‘It's whether they see themselves as GPs first, or the sessional issue as so big it transcends all others. I think they are better off inside the body of GPs.'

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the NASGP, warned cosmetic alterations would not be enough: ‘Partners think it's retrievable, but salaried GPs feel it isn't.'

He also revealed that the plans had gained significant backing from most NASGP members, and said the association had received double the average number of requests to join since the news broke.

Dr Caroline Graas Dr Caroline Graas

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