The fight back starts now, it seems. The BMA’s GP Committee held its emergency meeting last Thursday following the publication of NHS England’s ‘shambolic’ plan, and what came out of it was, dare I say it, pretty good.
The headline was the threat of ‘industrial action’, although I personally feel that this was more a case of good work by their press team. Because, while I’ve heard people mention the word ‘strike’, this action is far from that, and is indeed the more mundane non-compliance with two of the more irritating parts of the contract. In reality, this won’t have a huge impact on GPs or NHS England – and, in the case of non-compliance with the contractual requirement to declare income, it is something the BMA should have advised when the requirement was first announced.
For me, the more relevant outcome of the GPC meeting was the decision to advise practices to resign from the Network DES, and the advice to move to 15-minute face-to-face appointments and close lists.
This is exactly the right course of action on both a practical and strategic level. On a practical level, something needs to be done. Relieving practices of the increasingly bureaucratic elements of the Network DES will free up time. Moving to 15-minute appointments will give GPs more breathing space. And closing lists will clearly prevent workload from increasing.
There’s an added factor to this action, in that it does what a real ‘support’ package should have done in the first place. GPs need to reduce their workload first and foremost.
But these all have strategic benefits too. Moving to 15-minute face-to-face appointments hammers home the point that the situation isn’t the same as pre-pandemic, whatever the media would have patients believe. GPs still need to don PPE, still need to decontaminate rooms. Resigning from the PCN DES makes it clear that this is not about money, and funding is not the immediate solution for the crisis in general practice.
Just as importantly, I’m sure many readers would have liked to see something even more radical in the form of genuine strike action, but this would have been a dreadful path to take. I can imagine the reactionary columnists gleefully proclaiming they ‘couldn’t tell GPs were in strike’, and that becoming the phrase that would forever stick, regardless of whether there was any truth to it.
So credit where it is due. The BMA have played this one well. But it will take the co-operation of GPs. If they are on board, this might be seen as the start of not just the fightback, but the successful fightback.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org