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LMCs lukewarm on industrial action as pension ballot splits younger and older GPs

Exclusive: Large numbers of GPs are telling LMCs they are not willing to join BMA industrial action over pensions, with a stark divide opening up between older GPs and their younger colleagues.

Half of some 30 LMCs surveyed by Pulse said there was little support for industrial action in their areas, with older GPs in particular concerned over the workload and contractual implications of offering only urgent care, and the likely reaction of the national media.

In 11 LMCs, GPs warned a clear generational divide existed, with younger GPs much more militant than their older colleagues. Younger GPs are hit hardest by the changes, while those within 10 years of retirement largely escape their effects.

The BMA last week launched a ‘get out the vote' campaign and released detailed guidance setting out exactly what GPs will be asked to do ahead of the first ballot of doctors on industrial action for almost 40 years, beginning next week. GPs will be asked to cancel routine appointments for a day, although they will still be required to provide urgent and emergency care and deal with urgent administrative tasks such as reviewing test results.

Just five out of 30 LMCs contacted said members had showed overall support for action, compared with 15 who said there was little support and 10 unable to say. Eleven LMCs identified a split between younger and older GPs, while 12 reported little difference of opinion. And 10 LMCs warned the backlog of work generated by suspending routine appointments for a day was likely to dissuade GPs from taking part. A BMA spokesperson this week acknowledged ‘practices would need to catch up over subsequent days'.

Pulse's Say No to 30% campaign has backed a Yes vote to support GP negotiators – but is pushing for a boycott of non-clinical work rather than routine care.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs' newsletter said: ‘GPs could decide to take industrial action for media purposes, but in reality take none at all. Stopping routine care for a day would only produce a stressful workload bulge.'

Dr Paul Roblin, the LMCs' chief executive, told Pulse GPs were the ‘only people who would be hurt' by cancelling routine appointments: ‘Many LMC reps don't feel it is the right thing to do, but are concerned to support their younger colleagues.'

Dr Philip Fielding, chair of Gloucestershire LMC, said there was ‘not a militant mood', while Dr Ravi Mene, secretary of Salford and Trafford LMC, said GPs feared action could be ‘counterproductive'.

Dr Manoj Pai, former chair and current member of Coventry LMC, said: ‘Strikes by medics usually result in a loss of public support. There is a split between younger and older GPs.'

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, chair of Sefton LMC, said: ‘Younger GPs who may be salaried may be very keen, whereas older GPs are saying: "Are we certain this activity will not allow removal of the contract?"'

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, acknowledged it was ‘probably the case' that younger GPs were keener to take action, but said: ‘We will see what people will vote, and if they vote with their conscience. I am keen for people to vote.'

Dr Sandeep Geeranavar, a GP in Birmingham, said the pension reforms were particularly ‘an issue for younger GPs' like himself, and added industrial action would ‘send a clear message that GPs feel strongly about the way they have been treated'.

Click here to take part in our BMA pensions ballot survey