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Lawyers block GP pensions strike at eleventh hour

Dozens of GPs who had been planning to strike as part of Wednesday’s day of action on the Government’s pension reforms have been forced to cancel planned industrial action at the last minute, after union lawyers warned it could be illegal.

The Medical Practitioners’ Union has backtracked on its claims last week that its 100 GP members would be covered to strike alongside thousands of practice staff. A number of GPs in London had notified the MPU, which is part of the Unite union, of their intention to take industrial action on 30 November.

But while some GPs in east London still plan to shut their doors at certain times ‘in solidarity with their staff’, the MPU has now officially declared that its 100 GP members are ‘not being called out’ to join strikes, after advice from lawyers identified ‘complications’ with issuing ‘intention to strike’ notices to cover GPs.

Pulse understands that the complication arose because GPs’ status as independent contractors to the NHS means each GP practice is considered a separate workplace. This means that unions must issue separate ‘intention to strike’ notices to PCTs for each GP practice taking action. Because this has not happened, striking would be illegal.

Dr Ron Singer, president of the MPU, said: ‘There has been a decision by the union that GPs are officially not being called out. It had become complicated around serving notices of intention to strike by GPs. That clarification by the lawyers has now been made.’

Despite GPs being blocked from taking official industrial action, Dr Singer said the MPU understood that GP services may have to be adjusted on Wednesday due to the disruption from strikes. He said the decision by NHS Employers and councils to demand sick notes from staff who are ill on the day of action, first revealed by Pulse earlier this month, would put a strain on GP workload.

He said: ‘Practices can change their normal procedures on Wednesday if, for example, they are concerned that there may be extra patients, particularly NHS staff or local authority staff who are ill on the 30th as some councils and trusts are requiring sick notes,’ Dr Singer said.

‘Therefore the union has said that doctors officially are not being called out but they would understand if practices alter their normal procedures to cater for a differing workload on Wednesday.’

A number of GP practices in east London have confirmed they plan to provide ’emergency cover’ at certain times on Wednesday. In a statement, Tower Hamlets General Practice Team said a number of practices will be running ’emergency cover only in solidarity with their staff and other public sector workers who are striking against the attack on pensions.’

Dr Anna Livingstone, a GP at the Limehouse Practice, Tower Hamlets said: ‘We are planning a street protest between 9am and 10am. At our practice we are running an emergency service, we are allowing people to book in from the start of the week but we are letting them know we will be joining the NHS protest.’

‘We are going to close the doors, and have phone and emergency cover during that 9 till 10 slot and we will send a delegation to the protests. The staff are very enthusiastic about it because they are very angry about what is happening to their pensions and what is happening with privatisation and cuts to the health service.’

DAY OF ACTION: Click here to follow the latest developments and let us know what you are planning tomorrow.