GPs have spoken in support of junior doctors and trainees as thousands of them are currently undertaking strike action all over the country to demand pay restoration.
Junior doctors are currently undertaking a 72-hour walkout, starting yesterday, after more than 36,000 doctors voted in favour of strikes last month.
GP surgeries had been encouraged by BMA to ‘visibly demonstrate their support’ for GP trainees during the upcoming junior doctor strikes, in guidance published ahead of industrial action.
Dr Selvaseelan Selvarajah, a GP partner in London and BMA council representative, told Pulse that locum GPs and nurse practitioners were covering for their colleagues on strike at his practice.
He said: ‘We have five trainees in our surgery so we’ve actually increased capacity to try to make up for the patient numbers, and we’ve actually got a few locum GPs and nurse practitioners covering their shifts today.
‘We didn’t ask whether our trainees were going to strike or not because we fully support the junior doctors’ strike action and the aim for pay restoration.
‘We added additional capacity so that the same number of patients are being seen and we’re not cancelling any appointments for the next three days.
‘We’ve also increased capacity for our out-of-hours service, in case there are more patients coming through 111 services and more patients being seen in A&E.’
Dr David Wrigley, a GP in Lancashire and BMA GPC deputy chair, said: ‘We are more than happy to help cover for junior doctors seeking pay restoration after 13 plus years of sub inflation pay rises. More power to their arm!’
Dr David Mummery, a GP in London, told Pulse that demand does generally go down when the public see and are aware that there is NHS strike action on, but some practices decided to support their trainees as they walked out by cancelling their sessions.
Dr Brian McGregor, secretary of North Yorkshire and Bradford & Airedale LMCs, said: ‘Since the day the strikes were announced I’ve been advising practices to assume their supernumerary GP registrars will not be in practice on strike days, and legally they should not be asking if they will be in work.’
Jan Lamont, practice manager at GP surgeries in Lymington and Milford on Sea, put out a message to patients saying that some of the surgeries’ GP trainees were walking out.
She said: ‘We can confirm some of our junior doctors are taking strike action over the next few days and we are trying hard to avoid disruption to our patients. However, please be aware there will be less appointments during this week.’
Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, a GP principal in Manchester, said that as three trainees in her practice took part in the strikes, their sessions were cancelled in advance.
She told Pulse: ‘We fully support their action as junior doctors deserve pay restoration. We sent an SMS out to all patients advising that we had lower capacity – we still had over 200 online queries.
‘We are constantly struggling to meet demand. Patients’ expectations are enormous. Yesterday folks were sending second queries in three hours after their first query asking why we hadn’t responded!
‘The absence of GP trainees meant our capacity was reduced. But GP partners (and Advanced Nurse Practitioners covering triage) stepped up and absorbed the increased workload.’
Dr Dean Eggitt, Doncaster LMC’s chief executive, said that junior colleagues will be ‘sorely missed’ during the days of the strikes.
He told Pulse: ‘They are considered supernumerary, but they do a huge amount of work in trusts and in practices and we are going to be massively impacted by the strikes because of it.
‘Their strike is going to impact our work massively and the system is already on its knees. Our junior colleagues are active members of the teams that will be really missed when they are not around.
‘I’m not against them striking, I think they are doing the right thing, but I don’t think the message is going to get across very effectively – they are fighting a bigger problem than just pay restoration, which is the survival of the NHS but that could be lost in the argument.’
Commenting on the effects of day one of this week’s strike by junior doctors, NHS Providers’ chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said: ‘So far, so difficult for the NHS – but the health service is still there for patients.
‘Unlike previous strikes, it’s noticeable that there has been no let-up in the demand for care.
‘Senior doctors are stepping into the breach but it isn’t business as usual. For hospital patients that means it’s taking longer for admissions and the discharge process is also slower.
‘Ambulance handover delays are up too.
‘We’re seeing increased levels of cover by senior doctors in mental health and community services but it isn’t sustainable and trust leaders are worried about ‘burning goodwill’.
‘The planning effort involved in preparing for the strike and keeping services going has been huge and has taken leaders’ time away from other work. We can’t go on like this. The knock-on effects of a three-day strike will be felt for a long time to come.
‘We need the Government and the doctors’ unions to come to an agreement quickly.’
NHS England said some hospitals had seen the busiest Monday of the year so far yesterday.
National medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: ‘Emergency departments remained under severe pressure yesterday, and, while we are prioritising urgent and critical care, it’s important to remember that GP surgeries and pharmacies are largely unaffected and that 111 online can help with many non-urgent needs.
‘Some hospitals even saw their busiest Monday of the year so far for A&E attendance as the strike got underway yesterday, which presents a major challenge as our staff continue to do all they can to mitigate the impact of the industrial action for patients.
‘As we see the impact of the most significant strike disruption in the history of the NHS, we’re really grateful to the public for using services appropriately.
‘If you need emergency care, please continue to call 999, and please do attend any GP or hospital appointments unless contacted otherwise. But the public can help us ensure that care can be delivered to those that need it most over the next 48 hours by using 999 and A&E in life-threatening emergencies only, and using NHS 111 online or calling 111 for non-urgent needs.’
The BMA’s GP committee is currently considering next steps and ‘all options,’ including industrial or collective action following the imposition of a new GP contract for the upcoming year.