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GP practices to be able to declare 'black alerts' following BMA vote

Medical leaders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of general practice adopting a hospital-style model of declaring ‘black alert’ when workload or workforce issues mean they are not safe to deliver care.

The motion, agreed at the BMA's Annual Representatives Meeting in Bournemouth, commits the BMA and its GP Committee to establish a black alert reporting system ‘with or without’ the Government’s cooperation.

East Midlands regional representative Dr Peter Holden said that it would provide a measure of protection for GPs who recognised they were often working in unsafe circumstances.

Dr Holden said his own practice would be a candidate for ‘black alert’ all this week because of staff sickness, and he would be under extra pressure increasing the risk of a GMC investigation.

The motion passed despite opposition from BMA and hospital representatives who said it was NHS England and the Government, rather than the BMA, that should bear responsibility for implementing and upholding these emergency protocols.

They added there could be repercussions if the BMA and its guidance were deemed responsible for the failings of an underfunded system.

The motion states that hospitals ‘regularly declare “black alert”’ and ‘demands that a similar reporting system be created for general practice to indicate that maximum safe capacity has been reached.

It also says that ‘The conference instructs BMA council and the GPC to construct such a system with or without government cooperation.’

Rebutting calls to water down the motion Dr Holden said: ‘We are fed up of being pushed around.

‘And we are telling you that if it’s “black” all next week in the practice – as it will be for me because I’ve got a sudden illness and two partners away – then at least when it does go wrong and the GMC comes to me I can say: “Well you know we were under black alert”.'

He added that it was ridiculous to think GPs would use this status as an opportunity to stop work or ‘go off sick themselves’ when work reached unsafe levels but would show how often unsafe levels were reached.

Earlier this year GP leaders at the LMCs Conference in Edinburgh voted through a similar motion noting that the Royal Australian College of GPs has stated regularly having more than 25 patient contacts a day is unsafe.

The motion passed, in full

* 69 Motion by EAST MIDLANDS REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting notes the regular  declarations of “black alert” by hospitals and demands that a similar reporting system be created for general practice to indicate that maximum safe capacity has been reached and conference instructs BMA council and the GPC to construct such a system with or without government cooperation. 

69a Motion by YORKSHIRE REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting is concerned at the increasing numbers of practices struggling to provide a safe and sustainable service and insists that in order to protect patients practices are enabled to self-declare a safety alert when they have reached capacity on any specific day and can then direct patients to alternative service providers such as a local hub, a walk-in centre or A+E.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Cobblers

    Wouldn't worry about the GMC, that comes later. NHSE will want to flex its muscles on this one, under Government dictat, and declare you in breach of contract. A couple of those and the contract is removed and put out for APMS tender.

    Mind you, frankly, they would be doing you a favour.

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  • I agree a "black alert" system of early warning of risk to patients will add pressure to politicians to resource Primary Care better! Local MPs will not wish to be embarrassed by a publically failing local GP service as it will put them at electoral risk! It will move healthcare provision fit up their agenda for political survival.

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  • Vinci Ho

    'Right' thing to be done in the 'right' place at the 'right' time. Politicising this matter is inevitable as the tide of politics has changed so much in last few weeks . In facing a much weakened common enemy , those representing us need to think outside the box with progressive strategies.The next battleground is called STP.......

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  • Around the country most GP practices could call a black alert every day.

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  • THEY will use it against us. Very quickly politicians will conflate a practice that issues black alerts as being a 'failing' practice, which isn't working effectively or efficiently enough, and needs closed.

    We should quickly rebrand or as an alert stating 'insufficient resources' , before the politicians use it for their own end.

    You know it's true. 😩

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  • some positive, useful action taken here.

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  • my are has had few regular GPs in any practice for many years now with a thumping zero percent uptake of offered partnership and salaried jobs.

    can I declare an area wide brown alert?
    does anybody care?

    since I gave up partnership, its up to somebody else to sort out the mess they they are so hell bent on creating

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  • First we need to define a 'safe level of working' which as a profession we will never agree to. And the GMC won't care if you are on 'black alert' or under pressure, if you make a mistake. They'll still have u out to dry.

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