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Change tack on industrial action, says GP candidate for BMA chair

Exclusive: The GP standing to replace Dr Hamish Meldrum as chair of the BMA has called for it to switch the focus of its industrial action away from stopping routine patient care.

Dr George Rae, a GP in Newcastle and BMA Council member who is running for chairman of council at next week's annual representative meeting against consultant Dr Mark Porter and medical academic Professor Michael Rees, said winning public support must be the priority for the BMA after yesterday's day of action.

He told Pulse: ‘We have to look at how we move it forward. If we are going to achieve anything, we have to have public opinion on our side.'

‘If we want to get the public on board, the one thing we have got to do is not inconvenience them. We admitted that is what would happen yesterday.'

Dr Rae suggested the BMA could look at alternative forms of action which would not affect patients: ‘It is difficult with austerity. You have to do something that hits home at the Government and not at the patients. That could be done.'

Dr Rae said further discussion would wait until the ARM next week. However, his comments come amid increasing calls from doctors for the BMA to boycott the Government's NHS reforms rather than take further days of action. Ahead of the day of action last week, Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, claimed the BMA plan to stop routine care represented a ‘spectacular own goal'.

The Department of Health's final figure of 25% of practices taking action yesterday was disappointing in the context of the 79% support for industrial action among GPs who voted in the BMA ballot, Dr Rae said.

‘GPs were going on radio talking about rich doctors. It didn't 100% work yesterday.'

But he added: ‘I don't think it was a damp squib, certainly not where I am working. It is obviously not as big an impact as if everyone who said they would take industrial action did. But it did raise awareness. We've got to the point where the public understand, if not necessarily agree.'

Dr Rae said the low turnout was due to doctors' commitment to their patients.

‘It was partly down to the feeling of duty to patients, and that is something I am proud of. It is also very difficult to get a unanimous view in partnerships; it wasn't always an individual decision.' 

Speaking at the end of the day of action, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘Our feedback from the doctors co-ordinating the action on the ground indicates that in England up to a quarter of non-urgent cases have been postponed, and around a third of GP practices have been taking some form of action.' 

‘Our intention has not been to maximise the impact on patients, but to communicate the scale of doctors' anger and to encourage the Government back to the table. Doctors have sent a strong message that a fairer approach must be found.'

Dr John Canning, Cleveland LMC chair and member of the BMA pensions committee, told Pulse the day ‘was not the BMA's greatest'.

He said: ‘On local radio, there were a few supportive voices but the vast majority were not supportive. It's not been an absolute disaster, but it hasn't been our greatest day.'