Last week, at the UK LMCs Conference, the leader of the BMA’s Sessional GPs Committee signalled an intention to break away from the main GP Committee (GPC). That sentence may not make a huge amount of sense to many readers. But it is significant, and let me explain why.
The GPC has always represented all GPs and negotiates on behalf of all GPs. The problem is, it was structured for a time when salaried, locum or portfolio GPs barely existed. Now, around half of the GP workforce is ‘sessional’ – ie, salaried or locum. Yet the UK GPC only includes around 20 sessional GPs, out of around 70 members – and many of these are former partners. (Please note, it was raised post publication that two of the three members of the GPC England Executive – which negotiates with NHS England – are sessional GPs. Ed)
This means that sessional GP representatives feel that issues that are of importance to half the workforce don’t get the prominence they require. This includes a salaried model contract, transparency around locum fees and ensuring salaried GPs get their pay rise as recommended by the DDRB.
There is also no ignoring the fact that sessional GPs are overwhelmingly female (and there is a lot to say about the problems with sexism in the BMA). The Sessional GPs Committee published a report on the gender pay gap, and I understand there was some disquiet over a perceived ‘lack of fireworks’ (as one GP put it) from the BMA on the report. The report by Ijeoma Omambala on the GPC’s representation quoted unverified figures that the Sessional GPs Committee received £70,000 in funding, compared with the £2m received by the main committee.
There is, of course, a huge problem here for the BMA. In that, for issues involving terms and conditions – the main issues we are talking about here – sessionals would not be negotiating with the various NHS bodies or governments, but with GP partners. Which is awkward for the BMA, to say the least.
To add more complication, partners point to the way the GPC is funded. Without getting too technical, they pay the lion’s share of the running of the GPC through levies to LMCs. There is a counterargument that this levy is accounted for in the global sum in England at least. But there are further voluntary levies from practices that aren’t covered.
There are other strong sessional GP groups. But regardless, the GPC is meant to negotiate on behalf of all GPs and it does feel as though salaried GP issues are an afterthought at times (and maybe we at Pulse need to accept our role in this). The profession still seems in favour of a partnership model, but as long as this continues, we all need to accept that the non-partner proportion of the workforce is almost certainly going to grow, and they need to know the people fighting their corner are in fact working to their best interests.
While their negotiators represent both sides of the negotiating table – and one side more than the other – I don’t blame them for feeling like this isn’t the case.