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Half of GPs support industrial action over future below-inflation funding awards

Exclusive Half of GPs are prepared to take industrial action if their practice is given a funding award below inflation next year, shows a survey that reveals the profession’s anger over years of successive funding freezes.

The survey of 458 GPs, found that 50% expressed support for ‘some kind of industrial action’ next year if the Government failed to give a funding award that was in line with inflation.

This compared with 27% of respondents who said they would not support industrial action.

The results come after the Government awarded GPs a below-inflation 0.28% contractual funding uplift for 2014/15, following a series of funding freezes since 2010.

The GPC has said the results are a ‘clear sign of how desperate GPs feel’ about the current funding situation.

Among the 70 GPs who gave comments on what action they were willing to take, 26% said they would strike or close their surgeries temporarily, 14% said they would support a policy of ‘non-co-operation’ and 20% said they would support only carrying out emergency work – as in the ill-fated ‘day of action’ organised by the BMA over pensions in 2012.

The survey comes amid rising concern in the profession about the funding of general practice. The RCGP published data last month showing GPs face a £1.59bn real terms funding cut by 2017 despite predicted patient consultations due to increase by 69 million if current trends continue.

One respondent to the survey, Dr Emma Simmons, a GP in Sittingbourne, Kent, told Pulse: ‘I would like to strike to highlight the gross underfunding in primary care as a whole at the moment, and I think the public would be sympathetic to this because it is affecting them directly.’

‘The Government is continuing to increase the workload of GPs while failing to value the work by paying us accordingly, and slagging us off daily in the press. This affects patient care when morale is so low.’

Dr Hadrian Moss, a GP from Kettering, Northamptonshire, said they he would be willing to participate in some form of action as long as it did not affect patient care.

He said: ‘I would be in favour of refusing to do any referral that is the responsibility of another agency – for example a referral to a community paediatrician that should be done by the school, or a blood or imaging tests requested by consultants that they should be arranging themselves.’

But Dr Iain Taylor, a GP in Aberfeldy, Scotland, warned against industrial action, as GPs had ‘previously lost public support with strikes’.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The results from the survey are a clear sign of how desperate GPs feel about the situation – the survival of their practice and services are at risk, as their funding has been cut since 2006. It’s also a clear sign of their anger and desire to see the right level of funding distributed.’

The Unison union this voted in favour of a ballot of its members for a potential ‘day of protest’ on 5 June over pay, while one BMA Council member, Dr Una Coales, a locum GP in south London, told Pulse she was campaigning for an ‘emergency motion’ at the BMA Annual Representatives Meeting in June encouraging all GPs to resign from their contracts en masse as a result of cuts to primary care.

Survey result

Question: Would you support taking some form of industrial action if GPs are offered a further below inflation pay rise for 2015/16?

Yes – 230 (50%)

No – 124 (27%)

Don’t know – 104 (23%)

Total – 458

About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 April 2014, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 25 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. This question was answered by 458 GPs.