GP leaders have expressed fears that the BMA’s formal GP ballot on industrial action has been ‘kicked into the long grass’.
It comes as little progress was made on the issue at the BMA GP Committee’s meeting last week, after Pulse revealed last month that the BMA had not yet decided whether it would launch a formal ballot of GPs on industrial action.
In a report on last Thursday’s GPC meeting, shared yesterday, East and West Sussex GPC representative Dr Clare Sieber said there is ‘no update’ on GP industrial action.
Dr Sieber – who proposed the original motion on industrial action in October – added that committee members made it ‘clear’ that ‘uncertainty’ over whether it will go ahead is ‘undoing all of the good work that was done’ in the run-up to the indicative ballot held in November.
But the report said: ‘A member of the executive team told the committee that essentially it was useful for our negotiators to keep the threat of [industrial action] over their heads.
‘I did point out that the threat will become less of a threat in time if it doesn’t appear to be being acted on, and I don’t believe it was the will of those that voted for the motion that I proposed back in October/November last year for the BMA to not be actively taking steps to progress it.’
Speaking to Pulse, Dr Sieber added that the GPC was told it had ‘almost been an active decision to just keep [industrial action] on a gentle simmer to provoke anxiety in the negotiations’.
She said: ‘When we proposed it, it was all quite clear that we’re at the end of our tether so this needs to be done now.
‘And yet it seems to be kicked into the long grass, or it seems to be more hurdles need to be put in place or we’re unsure, maybe we should ask everybody again because it’s a few months down the line, maybe something’s going to change so we can’t assume that what we thought then is still relevant now. But I think it absolutely is.’
With no satisfactory answer over why there has been no progress, Dr Sieber said she is considering resigning from her GPC role.
‘I am very aware that – am I compromising my integrity that I’m still even sitting on this committee and being associated with it when I proposed that motion three, four months ago and not enough has been done about it?’
She added: ‘What I hear from the grassroots is that they’re really disappointed that there was the indicative ballot and then it’s sort of gone silent.
‘Some people weren’t even aware of the results of the indicative ballot, but those of them that do know what the result was are just wondering why it hasn’t progressed to the next step.’
Speaking to Pulse after the meeting last week, Mid Mersey LMC medical secretary and local GPC representative Dr Ivan Camphor separately told Pulse that the moment may have passed for industrial action.
He told Pulse: ‘Personally I think with politics, timing is everything. We may have lost the time for the industrial action. That was relevant in October – perhaps not in February of 2022 when there are other issues and more important pressing issues in general practice.’
He added: ‘I think there’s a good chance it has been left or for want of a better word, kicked into the long grass.
‘Officially, there is still the momentum to look into it, but whether it will transpire on the ground – we’ll have to wait and see.’
Others share the same fears, with Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs’ West Berkshire representative Dr Mark Green Tweeting that he is ‘furious’ the industrial action has been ‘swept under the carpet’.
Meanwhile, sessional GP Committee chair Dr Ben Molyneux told Pulse that the new GPC executive team has a ‘new strategy’ for engaging with NHS England.
While industrial action is still ‘on their minds’, they need ‘time and space’ to develop a plan, he added.
Dr Molyneux said: ‘There’s a new team of negotiators that is talking to NHS England and my understanding is that they want to formulate a new strategy as a new team and they are still in the process of doing that.
‘Things like industrial action are clearly on their minds but I think they need a bit of time and space to develop a plan – but hopefully a vision of general practice in five or ten years time, not just reactive attitudes to what NHS England are doing today and tomorrow.’
Pulse has approached the BMA for comment.
What do we know so far about GP industrial action?
In an email bulletin sent to GPs in October, announcing the upcoming launch of its indicative ballot, the BMA set out that it was also preparing for a formal ballot of GP members on industrial action.
It said that ‘for legal reasons’ this could not take place sooner than six weeks after the emergency GPC meeting where balloting the profession was decided.
The meeting took place fourteen weeks ago today, on 21 October.
But when questioned by Pulse about whether a formal ballot will still go ahead and when, a BMA spokesperson said that the BMA does not recognise the timescales from its bulletin.
They added: ‘The BMA made clear when the results were published that we would be discussing them with GPC and the wider profession before determining next steps. This remains the case.’
The BMA revealed in November that its indicative ballot showed over half of GP practices are willing to opt-out of the PCN DES as part of a range of protest measures concerning the Government’s GP access fund.
The GPC had learned of the ballot results a week before they were announced but delayed releasing them while mulling over next steps in private.
It said at the time it would analyse the results ‘in detail before deciding on the next steps, which we will communicate to all members in due course’.