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GP practices to be able to declare ‘black alerts’ following BMA vote



Medical leaders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of general practice adopting a hospital-style model of declaring ‘black alert’ when workload or workforce issues mean they are not safe to deliver care.

The motion, agreed at the BMA’s Annual Representatives Meeting in Bournemouth, commits the BMA and its GP Committee to establish a black alert reporting system ‘with or without’ the Government’s cooperation.

East Midlands regional representative Dr Peter Holden said that it would provide a measure of protection for GPs who recognised they were often working in unsafe circumstances.

Dr Holden said his own practice would be a candidate for ‘black alert’ all this week because of staff sickness, and he would be under extra pressure increasing the risk of a GMC investigation.

The motion passed despite opposition from BMA and hospital representatives who said it was NHS England and the Government, rather than the BMA, that should bear responsibility for implementing and upholding these emergency protocols.

They added there could be repercussions if the BMA and its guidance were deemed responsible for the failings of an underfunded system.

The motion states that hospitals ‘regularly declare “black alert”’ and ‘demands that a similar reporting system be created for general practice to indicate that maximum safe capacity has been reached.

It also says that ‘The conference instructs BMA council and the GPC to construct such a system with or without government cooperation.’

Rebutting calls to water down the motion Dr Holden said: ‘We are fed up of being pushed around.

‘And we are telling you that if it’s “black” all next week in the practice – as it will be for me because I’ve got a sudden illness and two partners away – then at least when it does go wrong and the GMC comes to me I can say: “Well you know we were under black alert”.’

He added that it was ridiculous to think GPs would use this status as an opportunity to stop work or ‘go off sick themselves’ when work reached unsafe levels but would show how often unsafe levels were reached.

Earlier this year GP leaders at the LMCs Conference in Edinburgh voted through a similar motion noting that the Royal Australian College of GPs has stated regularly having more than 25 patient contacts a day is unsafe.

The motion passed, in full

* 69 Motion by EAST MIDLANDS REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting notes the regular  declarations of “black alert” by hospitals and demands that a similar reporting system be created for general practice to indicate that maximum safe capacity has been reached and conference instructs BMA council and the GPC to construct such a system with or without government cooperation. 

69a Motion by YORKSHIRE REGIONAL COUNCIL: That this meeting is concerned at the increasing numbers of practices struggling to provide a safe and sustainable service and insists that in order to protect patients practices are enabled to self-declare a safety alert when they have reached capacity on any specific day and can then direct patients to alternative service providers such as a local hub, a walk-in centre or A+E.