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Practices meet to plan pensions day of action as media backlash splits GPs

GPs at practices across the country have begun meeting in earnest to discuss plans for the 21 June, as they woke up to a media backlash against the BMA’s decision to take industrial action over the Government’s pension reforms.

GP leaders told Pulse the ballot result represented ‘a huge mandate from the profession’, but admitted that it could be ‘extremely confusing’ for patients and that they may not be able to secure widespread public support for the action.

They also said that some practices may face awkward conversations on how to proceed on 21 June, with potential disagreements between partners over the rights and wrongs of taking action.

The meetings came as a number of prominent GPs voiced their opposition to the plans, with NHS Alliance chair Dr Mike Dixon and commissioning leader Dr James Kingsland both saying they will work as normal.

The BMA announced yesterday that doctors will take industrial action next month for the first time since 1975, after receiving a strong mandate from its ballot of members.  The landmark move came after a huge 79% of GPs who took part in the ballot voted in favour of taking industrial action short of a strike, with a turnout of 53%.

The profession faced a backlash from the national media this morning, with the likes of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Independent fiercely critical of the decision to take action and health secretary Andrew Lansley saying patients would not sympathise with doctors.

Dr Dean Marshall, GPC negotiator and member of BMA Council, said the high turnout and strength of feeling meant they had to take industrial action.

He said: ‘It wasn’t really a long conversation at council because it’s clear that we had a huge mandate from the profession. There were no dissenting voices at all.’

‘It would be great to have public support, but that’s not the fundamental goal, which is to reflect what our members are saying and to get the Government to see sense. We’re not going to live and die by that.’

Dr Marshall said his practice would be following the advice given by the BMA, and running an emergency only service.

He said: ‘Over the next few days all practices will be sitting down and working out what it means for them. You may get some doctors doing routine and some not, but with the practicalities of general practice, that would be quite difficult. I would hope most would follow GPC’s advice, otherwise it could be extremely confusing to patients.’

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and a GP in Matlock, Derbyshire, said practices where partners did not agree on whether to take action may need to consult their partnership agreements.

He said: ‘It depends what each partnership agreement says. All practices are going to have to sit down and see what they want to do.’

Dr Holden said he believed the media backlash was not as harsh as he had feared, with the view beginning emerge that the Government was ‘not to be trusted’.

He said: ‘The line that’s beginning to come out is, this is not just about pensions, this is about serial reneging on deals. It’s the fact the Government is not to be trusted. You don’t get doctors wound up into a ballot like this unless there is something seriously wrong.

‘Privately, I think everybody is gobsmacked at the high turnout and the result. You don’t get strength of feeling unless there’s some justice in the cause.’

His advice to GPs was to ‘keep calm, keep quiet and stay dignified’, adding: ‘If you always remember, “patients first” you won’t come unstuck.’

But not all GPs backed taking action. Dr James Kingsland, national clinical commissioning lead at the Department of Health and a GP in Wirral, said he would not be taking industrial action and that he had concerns over patient safety.

‘I am not sure what the impact is going to be of that action,’ he said. ‘There could be as much damage as good coming out of it.’