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So… will GPs be taking industrial action or not?

So… will GPs be taking industrial action or not?

After mixed messages in the media, Jaimie Kaffash attempts to clear up the confusion about whether GPs will go on strike or not

Pulse readers may be feeling a little confused today. They will have seen our headline – that the BMA won’t be balloting on industrial action over the imposed contract – and headlines from the rest of the media, including the specialist press, that they will. So let me try and clear up the confusion as best I can.

The BMA GP Committee England (GPCE) convened a special meeting on Thursday to discuss their response to the contract imposition. Following the imposition, acting chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘General practice can no longer be expected to take whatever is thrown at it, and the Committee’s recent rejection of the contract offer still stands. We will now look to enter serious discussions with our membership and the wider profession on what action we take next.’

That is how we ended up at the special meeting yesterday. And central to that meeting was a motion to discuss whether the BMA should ballot immediately or should use the threat of industrial action as a negotiating tool for the 2024 contract.

A bit more context – this year’s contract is the final year of a five-year deal. There were never supposed to be major changes in the course of the contract, only tinkering. However, the terms of the contract and the annual funding increases were negotiated before Covid and the cost-of-living crisis. (It is, of course, disingenuous of NHS England to cite the five-year agreement as the reason for not uplifting practice funding but not apply the same logic to bringing in new access requirements, but that is a separate issue).

But next year’s contract will be the big one – it could well be a fundamental review of general practice in England, similar to the 2004 contract that removed out-of-hours responsibilities from practices. Getting that contract right is more important than anything.

So the two sides of that motion were clear: ballot the profession on industrial action straight away in response to the imposition; or keep the powder dry for the next contract.

I’m not getting into the rights and wrongs of each approach, and I can see the benefits of both. But these were two separate approaches.

The vote was in favour of not balloting now, and waiting for negotiations for 2024 to start by a margin of 58% to 42%. Basically, GPCE resigned themselves to losing the battle over the 2023/24 contract in the hope of winning the war of 2024 and beyond – as I said, there are decent reasons to take this approach.

This is where Pulse came in. We found this out, and we sent a breaking news email that they had rejected the call for a ballot in response to the imposition. As we understand it, the worries about the impact of Pulse’s story informed debate over the next motion – the one that was released to the press yesterday and created headlines that the BMA may be balloting GPs on industrial action.

The successful motion in full read: ‘This committee calls on the Government to agree a contract with GPC England which recognises and funds the increased workload carried out by general practices, and enables practices to provide safe patient care with freedom and trust.

‘If the Government fails to do this, then this committee will ballot GPs working in England on industrial action.’

Today (Friday 28 April), Dr Sharrock sent a letter to the health secretary. This letter says they will ballot on industrial action in England ‘if the working conditions of GPs are not radically improved’.

But…they have already issued this threat. They issued a list of demands on 22 March that were more concrete than ‘radically improving’ general practice. And none of these have been met by the Government and NHS England. Yesterday’s specially convened meeting was supposed to take this further. For many, that will mean strong timelines, communicated to grassroots members.

Yet they voted against this approach. The motion they agreed upon had almost unanimous support – 98% of committee members voted for it. But this is hardly surprising, as it is reaffirming a threat that had already been made and was supposed to be taken forward yesterday. In other words, yesterday’s meeting lessened the chances of industrial action.

In reality, what the motion passed yesterday means is that the GPC will have this threat in their back pocket while negotiating the major 2024 contract. But it a threat they already had. And had failed to use before.

This might be the best approach in the long run. But GPs in England are stuck with this imposed contract, and they won’t get the chance to take action around it – regardless of the BMA’s spin.

Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

SUBHASH BHATT 28 April, 2023 6:03 pm


David Turner 28 April, 2023 6:14 pm

….the government must be trembling in their boots ( not!)

Cameron Wilson 28 April, 2023 6:38 pm

In normal industrial disputes, the management wants the company to prosper!
Sadly, this is not the case in this instance.
Any industrial action will not alter this fact, yep you might get a few extra crumbs but the exodus will gather pace.
Appalling leadership from the BMA, regarding a failure to have a fall back position.

David Jenner 28 April, 2023 7:01 pm

I think GPC, give government and their proxy NHSE until end Q1 ( 30/06/2023) to mitigate some of this years contract or QOF ( those insane lipid targets for example )
If they don’t then please give us our democratic right through a ballot to opt for industrial action
Please also GPC remember LMC conference motions to remove us from PCNs by 2023
Otherwise inevitable vote of confidence later this year ! ( or emergency special conference initiated by us the Paying members)
If NHSE / government won’t even renegade call that ballot now

David Jenner 28 April, 2023 7:08 pm

Sorry “re-engage”

John Graham Munro 28 April, 2023 9:31 pm

Strike?—–and the band played ‘Believe it if you like’

Nicola Williams 2 May, 2023 1:12 pm

top of the agenda should be removing the appalling clause from the 2004 contract that the government can unilaterally change the GP contract . they have beaten us with that stick ever since .

Tim Atkinson 2 May, 2023 4:36 pm

For reasons that have always escaped me the public never blame individual surgeons for long waiting lists for operations nor A&E consultants for a 12 hour wait in casualty yet if primary care is failing it’s due to lazy GPs.
For this reason IA by GPs will have no public support & get nowhere.

Tim Atkinson 2 May, 2023 4:42 pm

Nicola some of us who were around in 2004 called this out repeatedly. There was the famous ‘Vote No FFS’ thread on DNUK.
The BMA negotiatiors claimed this clause would only be invoked in times of national emergency and was nothing to be concerned with. Gullible idiots.

gregory rose 2 May, 2023 5:22 pm

If Pulse stopped writing click-bait “we have a leak” articles to generated advertising revenue we would all be better off. As I have raised previously directly you are prioritising headlines over accuracy and undermining the profession.