The ‘window of opportunity’ for the BMA to organise a mass opt-out from the PCN DES has now closed, an LMC has claimed.
In the BMA’s indicative ballot of GP practices following the controversial NHS England winter access fund, 58% of respondents said they would support mass withdrawal from the PCN DES during the window to opt out for the 2022/23 financial year. Only 39% said they would be willing to disengage from the PCN DES outside of that window.
However, Surrey and Sussex LMCs have said that ‘given internal timetables’, it would now be impossible for the BMA to ‘legally encourage GPs to take this action’ before the opt-out window closes.
Pulse has reached out to the BMA for comment.
Under NHS England’s specifications, practices can ‘choose not to participate’ in the subsequent Network Contract DES ‘commencing on 1 April 2022’. However, once the 2022/23 enhanced service starts on 1 April, they can only opt out if NHS England changes the terms of the DES.
And in a letter to local practices sent yesterday, Surrey and Sussex LMCs chief executive Dr Julius Parker said: ‘Given internal timetables, the window of opportunity for the BMA to support collective GP practice withdrawal from the PCN DES in the March 2022 opt-out window has now passed.
‘If the PCN DES specification is altered for 1 October 2022, there may be a further opt-out period, but otherwise this will next occur in March 2023.’
Dr Parker added that both industrial and ‘collective’ action – under which opting out from the DES during the allowed window would fall – require the support of the BMA as the official trade union to ‘legally encourage GPs to take this action’.
However, he said that while it was ‘recognised during the Autumn’ that the profession will need ‘levers’ to negotiate contractual changes, ‘no further action has been taken or currently appears to be planned for by GPC England’.
Withdrawal from the network DES had been one of five options put to GPs for action, following the announcement of NHS England and the Government’s controversial access plan.
Results of the BMA’s indicative vote on collective/industrial action
- 58% of respondents said they would support withdrawal from the PCN DES at the next opt-out period;
- 39% said they would be willing to disengage from the PCN DES before then;
- 84% said they would welcome non-compliance with Covid exemption certificates ;
- 80% said they would change the way they report appointment data.
England LMCs have also demanded that the BMA do not negotiate any new work or funding for GPs via the PCN DES beyond 2023.
However, last week GPC England passed a new motion regarding the future of negotiations with NHS England.
This said the executive should negotiate for additional support for GP practices ‘to deliver the recovery/backlog demands’ until 2023/24; negotiate for ‘a refreshed fit-for-purpose contract agreement beyond the five-year agreement ending in 2023/24’; and ‘begin a profession-wide consultation on the future of general practice’.
In his letter to Surrey and Sussex LMC, Dr Parker described the motion, which he said came ‘instead of’ action, as ‘vanilla’.
Dr Clare Sieber – who originally proposed industrial action in October but resigned from the GPC amid a lack of action on it – told Pulse she is ‘disappointed but not surprised’.
She said: ‘I’m disappointed, but not surprised, that GPC England has not progressed the matter of industrial action or collective action since the last meeting, and nor does it seem to have any plans to.
‘As Julius rightly points out, we’ve got to the stage where we need leverage – indeed we got to that stage last Autumn, if not before – but GPC England doesn’t seem to have the stomach for it.’
Dr Sieber, who openly criticised the BMA for a lack of a satisfactory update on progress on the motion last month, has since resigned from the union over attempts to ‘silence’ her.
She said her position had become ‘untenable’ after she was placed under internal investigation for updating local GPs on BMA matters.
Meanwhile, Pulse could yesterday reveal that the BMA has hired a law firm to investigate leaks to the press from its GP Committee, amid calls for greater transparency from the profession.