Exclusive GPs have ‘no appetite currently’ for industrial action, and there is ‘zero chance’ of 2023/24 contract negotiations being reopened, BMA GP Committee negotiators have told GP WhatsApp groups in messages obtained by Pulse.
The messages, from GPC England negotiator Dr Richard van Mallaerts, said there is far less support for industrial action from GPs than consultants and junior doctors, and that balloting and failing to reach thresholds of support would leave the profession ‘even more stuffed than we are now’.
In a statement, Dr van Mallaerts said that these leaks ‘serve only to distract from the crucially important work of making clear our huge concerns about the suitability and sustainability of the current GP contact’.
Last week, the GPC voted against organising industrial action over this year’s GP contract during an emergency meeting, deciding instead to hold off while it sees how recently-launched negotiations over a new five-year deal turn out.
After the meeting, the BMA then said in a statement that it was ‘beginning with preparations for an indicative ballot in the coming months’, if the Government ‘fails to negotiate a new contract that is fit for purpose.’
However, in the WhatsApp messages, GPC’s deputy chair Dr Richard van Mallaerts said: ‘To be honest, having spoken to dozens of LMCs in the last month, there is zero chance of getting to the industrial action thresholds of 50% turnout and 50% of all votes wanting industrial action, being successful. There is not the appetite currently.
‘We agreed to work up industrial action with a view to balloting depending on how negotiations are going to 24/25, but retain the option to go earlier. There is zero chance of the 23/24 contract being reopened.
‘If we ballot and fail to reach the thresholds we’re even more stuffed than we are now.’
He also said that ‘the threat of industrial action’ is ‘leverage’ and the BMA need to ‘play a medium to long term game.’
‘This is just the next step,’ he added. ‘There is little to no public support for industrial action by GPs. Far less than for consultants and juniors. The Government would just wait us out. They care about votes and nothing else.’
The messages also accused Pulse of being the ‘Daily Mail’ of the GP press.
In a statement, Dr van Mallaerts said: ‘For what was intended to be a private exchange of views between local colleague GPs, to be leaked to the media in this way is deeply upsetting to me. It is also frustrating when it serves only to distract from the crucially important work of making clear our huge concerns about the suitability and sustainability of the current GP contact – a position worsened by the newly imposed changes. There is, procedurally, no opportunity to renegotiate the current contract until later this year but that does not stop us worrying about the impact it will have on the profession and patient care. The BMA’s GP committee England voted, last week, in favour of balloting for industrial action if our working conditions are not radically improved.
‘Sharing what should have been, and still should be, the contents of private communications comes only days after Pulse published leaked voting results from the GPC England meeting. The meeting agenda always included a Committee vote on a motion which encapsulated the decisions taken within the meeting, this was in no way influenced by the inappropriate leak to Pulse.
‘GPs across the country will be dismayed that a small number of our own profession continue to try to undermine collective action with these leaks. They know that we are stronger when we are united. My focus is on doing everything I can, against a very challenging environment, to focus Government attention on the fact the GP contract needs significant improvement in order to retain the workforce and protect the quality of patient care.’
During last week’s emergency meeting, GPC members were asked if they wanted to take action on a timeline of either the 2023/24 imposition, or based on the 2024 onwards contract negotiations. Over half (58%) voted in favour of the second option but only 42% backed imminent industrial action.
There was also another motion, supported by 98% of committee members, calling on the Government to ‘agree a contract with GPC England which recognises and funds the increased workload carried out by general practices, and enables practices to provide safe patient care with freedom and trust.’
‘If the Government fails to do this, then this committee will ballot GPs working in England on industrial action,’ the motion added.
Last month, the union gave the Government a list of changes that must be made – ‘at a minimum’ – to the imposed 2023/24 contract to avoid a threat of industrial action by GPs.