Exclusive GP practices face widespread disruption if thousands of practice nurses and reception staff join November's day of strike action over pensions, after the BMA made clear that although doctors will not take part, they should not bring in agency staff to cover strikers.
Figures collected by Pulse indicate more than 8,000 practice nurses and reception staff are members of Unison, Unite and the GMB, and will be balloted by the unions over a day of strike action on pensions on 30 November.
The BMA has ruled out balloting doctors on the November strikes, but is urging GPs to indirectly support the strike action and will be issuing guidance on how they can support their staff without taking action themselves.
But GPs are left with a dilemma on how to provide that indirect support while minimising disruption for patients at their surgeries.
The BMA said practice employees had a right to strike under employment law, and it would be illegal for practices to hire agency staff to cover for strikers, although they could redeploy staff from within a practice. It is urging GPs concerned about providing cover to seek advice.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC and a GP in Leeds, said: ‘If practice staff are members of a union and are balloted appropriately, they do have the right to take industrial action and we would expect practices to respect that.'
‘We will, along with the wider BMA, be issuing advice about how GPs can show their support for the day of action.'
Dr Ron Singer, a retired GP and president of the Medical Practitioners' Union, said: ‘If practice nurses or reception staff go on strike I'd be confident that GPs will be supportive of them doing so, as we understand the threat to pensions.'
‘For other staff managed by PCTs who strike, it will be up to PCTs to arrange cover.'
The news comes as figures obtained by Pulse show NHS pension staff are receiving rising enquiries about the scheme.
The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show the NHS Business Services Authority received 54,661 telephone and email enquiries in the first quarter of this year, up 9% from average quarterly enquiries in 2010/11.