The BMA’s GP Committee will be able to continue negotiating the terms of the Primary Care Network (PCN) DES with the backing of a vast majority of GPs.
Some 80% of 4,534 GPs who took part in the vote on the GPC’s future negotiating mandate voted in favour, the BMA has announced.
It said this gives the GPC a ‘firm mandate’ to continue negotiations.
The ballot, which closed at midnight on Wednesday, had asked: ‘Prior to any further negotiations, extension or changes for 2021/22, do you give GPC England a mandate for the PCN directed enhanced service?’
It was put to all practising GPs in England including partners, sessional GPs and trainees.
Launching the poll, the BMA urged GPs to ‘consider the potential implications and consequences’ of their vote.
It said the ballot would inform ‘future negotiations’ – with GPC continuing to negotiate ‘amendments’ to the DES for its remaining three years if general practice votes in favour.
However, if practices had voted against the mandate, the BMA said the GPC would be ‘unable to continue discussions with NHS England’ around the DES and NHS England would decide how to ‘proceed’ with PCNs.
It warned that this could include continuing to offer the DES to practices without BMA input, transferring the requirements and funding to non-GP providers or transferring ‘some or all’ of the funding to other parts of the NHS.
GPC England chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We are glad that the profession has spoken so clearly, giving GPC England a clear mandate for the PCN directed enhanced service and telling us that we should continue negotiating this important contract on behalf of grassroots GPs throughout the country.
‘With more than 99% of practices now being a member of a PCN, it is vital that GPs and their teams have a voice and a seat at the negotiating table – both locally and nationally – and the BMA is proud to represent GPs’ views as it has done since the contract was developed two years ago.’
He added: ‘GPC England will now go forward with this, emboldened by this renewed mandate, determined to achieve the best for general practice, family doctors and their patients.’
Although ‘significant challenges remain’, PCNs are helping practices ‘reduce their workload’ through additional staff and funding and there is ‘cautious optimism’ amid clinical directors, Dr Vautrey said.
However, the Government must ‘acknowledge’ the ‘real challenges’ faced by GPs and ‘do more to support the flexible development of PCNs’ during the pandemic ‘and beyond’, he added.
The introduction of the PCN DES last year was mired in controversy, including becoming subject to a special LMC conference which voted to reject it.
At the time, NHS England’s announcement said that the ‘near total’ uptake ‘reflects support’ for PCNs which are ‘helping improve care for patients across the country’.
Practices were also given an opportunity to opt out of the DES in September, after NHS England updated its terms.
A recent Pulse analysis revealed that PCNs continue to split opinion, with some reporting little benefit so far and continued difficulties with recruitment.