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GP practices advised to cancel routine appointments to deal with strikes

GP practices are being advised to cancel routine work to ensure they are able to cope with an increase in unscheduled work during the junior doctor strikes.

It comes as NHS England advised patients to organise GP appointments for Tuesday 12 January if they thought they may need to see a doctor.

This is despite emergency services running as normal during the first of three days of planned industrial action by the BMA, with only elective care affected.

Dr Robert Morley, Birmingham LMC executive secretary and GPC contracts and regulations subcommittee chair, told Pulse he was ‘not surprised’ by NHS England’s advice.

He said: ‘Birmingham LMC has already advised its practices may need to rearrange routine work to accommodate unscheduled overspill.’

In advice sent to practices on 5 January seen by Pulse, the LMC wrote: ‘Possible suggestions that practice you might wish to consider in order to free up capacity for additional unscheduled care could include cancelling or reducing the volume of routine appointments and reducing or stopping any non-patient facing activities on the days in question.

‘Such actions would be entirely legitimate, would not put practices in breach their contracts and would not represent any illegal support for the industrial action on the part of practices.’

As tens of thousands of junior doctors prepared to go on strike across England, NHS England issued advice to patients to ’where possible… contact their GP, seek advice from their local pharmacist, call NHS 111 or consult the NHS Choices website’ or, in an emergency call 999 or go to A&E.

NHS England said people ’should be particularly attentive to their health over this period and look out for more vulnerable members of their families and communities, adding: ’GP services will be available as normal and we would encourage anyone who thinks they will need an appointment to organise this before industrial action begins.’

It added that ’everything possible is being done to ensure the provision of safe emergency care and to minimise the impact on patients’ but that it ’expresses regret that thousands of planned procedures would have to be rearranged and that people would have to wait longer for treatment as a result’.

Meanwhile, GP registrars are set to picket their training practices, as industrial action law states that individuals can only picket their employers. The BMA has said that practices should be aware they are not the subject of the protest.

The BMA has also responded to comments made to the Telegraph over the weekend by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said doctors are ‘basically saying ”we won’t be there for you in life-threatening situations”’ and that ‘some elements’ of the BMA were using the strikes ’as a political opportunity to bash a Tory Government that they hate’.

But the BMA said that the Government is ’faced with the current position – one that the BMA has sought to avoid throughout – because of a fundamental breakdown in trust with junior doctors, for which it is directly responsible’.

It said: ’How can junior doctors have confidence in a Government which, while giving public assurances, has been deliberately turning up the temperature behind the scenes in order to misrepresent them?

’No doctor takes industrial action lightly and we regret the disruption it will cause. However, junior doctors now feel that they have no option.’