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Practices waver over BMA’s day of action

The BMA’s decision to call a day of industrial action over ministers’ pensions raid has split the profession, with a third of practices indicating they will not cancel routine appointments and even BMA Council members yet to confirm if their practice will take part.

Partners across the country have been holding meetings to decide if their practice will provide only urgent and emergency care on 21 June, with the extent of grassroots support for the BMA’s action increasingly uncertain.

Pulse’s snapshot poll of 161 GPs this week reveals just 29% so far expect their practice to take part fully in the day of action, with a further 15% reporting that some parts of the practice will participate.

Some 37% said their practice had already ruled out taking action, while almost one in five had yet to decide.

At the end of last month, BMA Council announced that the first industrial action by doctors
for almost 40 years will see practices stop all routine care for 24 hours.

The decision came after 84% of doctors voted for industrial action short of a strike in the BMA ballot – including 79% of GPs.

Most practices have yet to formally tell local NHS managers whether they plan to take part, but the Pulse poll’s findings were also matched by a survey undertaken by NHS Gloucestershire.

Just 26% of the 51 practices and 261 GPs who responded to the PCT said they were planning to take action.

Even many BMA Council members, who took just two hours after the ballot results were announced to unanimously approve industrial action, were unable to confirm they would participate.

As Pulse went to press, just one out of 10 GPs on BMA Council contacted – GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman – would say that his practice would definitely be closed for routine appointments on 21 June, with many yet to discuss it with their partners and several refusing even to discuss their own practice’s decision.

A series of high-profile GPs have been fiercely critical of the BMA’s decision to take action. NAPC president Dr James Kingsland warned it could harm patient safety, while the Times newspaper columnist Dr Mark Porter, who is a GP in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, claimed it was the ‘wrong battle at the wrong time’.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP on the House of Commons health committee and a former GP, told Pulse: ‘I get a lot of correspondence from doctors who are horrified at what the BMA is doing.

‘People have been in touch to say “I voted Yes/Yes in the poll, but now regret it and won’t be taking action”. The risks of undermining the goodwill and trust [of patients] are just not worth it.’

But others were more enthusiastic. Dr Gaurav Gupta, a GP in Faversham, Kent, said his whole practice would be taking part: ‘Our pension was renegotiated in 2008, but the Government has decided to renege on this agreement.

‘We are being singled out, and it is time for the profession to take a stand.’

The Pulse poll does suggest there is some appetite for on-going action over pensions, with 45% of respondents prepared to consider further days of action if the BMA decides they are required.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair and a GP in Leeds, downplayed fears that a large number of practices would ignore the first day of action.

‘We need to go on the actual ballot, which had a very clear message and the numbers who responded were overwhelming,’ he said. ‘We are not under any illusions that the action we take is going to win huge levels of support from the public or patients.’