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BMA asks GPs if they are prepared to close patient lists en masse

GPs in England are being balloted on whether they would be willing to take industrial action by collectively closing their patient lists.

In a letter to GPs, acting GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey urged GPs to take part in the ballot which will close Thursday 10 August.

But Dr Vautrey’s letter did warn that the move would have ‘significant implications on GPs as independent contractors’.

The letter said that ‘there are two ways in which practices may cease the registration of new patients’. It said these are:

i) Temporarily suspend new patient registrations (strictly speaking, a practice’s list is not considered ‘closed’ in these circumstances); or

ii) Apply to the commissioner for formal list closure.

It added: ‘We are therefore balloting practices whether or not they are prepared to undertake either or both of the above courses of action as a form of industrial action.’

The ballot follows the carried LMCs Conference motion which said that ‘conference believes that the GP Forward View is failing to deliver the resources necessary to sustain general practice and demands that GPC ballot GPs as to whether they would be prepared to collectively close their lists in response to this crisis’.

Dr Vautrey’s letter said: ‘As a result, GPC England has been asked to ballot practices as to whether GPs in England are prepared to collectively close their practice lists. Such action would constitute industrial action, and with significant implications on GPs as independent contractors.

‘It is therefore important for you and your practice colleagues to read the accompanying explanatory document carefully before responding to our ballot.’

In a FAQ distributed with the letter, the GPC said it was ‘important to note that this ballot is about assessing whether or not practices are prepared to undertake this form of action’ and that ‘the BMA is not at this stage asking practices to undertake any action’.

It also said that GPs should ‘note that as self-employed doctors, GP partners do not have the same (limited) immunities from the consequences of taking industrial action as employees do’.

It added: ‘If a practice refuses to do something which is a contractual obligation they could be served with a breach notice (the most severe outcome of which is a termination of the contract) – irrespective as to whether it is done as part of a campaign of industrial action… or not.’

The move comes after the GPC announced last August that it had dropped plans to ballot members on potentially submitting undated resignations, or industrial action, after claiming that it had won concessions on workload from NHS England.

It said at the time that NHS England has agreed to take on board a number of suggestions from the GPC’s ‘Urgent Prescription for General Practice’, including ensuring GPs work within safe limits and longer appointments.

Meanwhile, GP leaders in Northern Ireland are in advanced stages of collecting undated resignations from practices in protest at a the lack of a rescue deal for general practice in the country.

Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said: ‘I don’t think the leadership of GPC were at all pleased with that vote at LMCs conference, it ties their hands quite wickedly and they’re going to have great difficulty with it. I certainly wouldn’t like to be in their shoes at the moment, it really is the devil and the deep blue.

‘Even though it stops short of undated resignations, I think this still might be hard to get past as well. We’re a soft-old lot at heart, we all have at-least a bit of cardigan in us.’

Dr Swinyard further said that he will be ‘fascinated to see the result’, adding: ‘It would certainly strengthen GPCs hand in negotiation if there were a strong ballot in favour of doing something along those lines. They’re taking the temperature aren’t they.

‘But if everyone says “heavens no old chaps” then they know they haven’t got as strong a negotiating position with NHS England. They can’t say “everyone will quit or close shop if you don’t behave yourself”.’