The BMA’ annual representative meeting yesterday took a hugely significant step. It has given GPs the weight of the BMA’s support in taking industrial action over this year’s imposed contract in England.
I know how much support there is among grassroots GPs and, indeed, the GP Committee itself for industrial action. And I can completely understand the sentiment. When general practice is in the state it is, drastic measures are called for – something I have argued in the past. And the threat of industrial action – even as far as striking – must be in the profession’s arsenal.
But I am really worried this isn’t the time to use this weapon, especially around striking. GPs are (completely unfairly) being castigated in the media at the moment. The profession is losing the PR war. As I have said time and again, there is a simple message: GP numbers are decreasing while patient demand is increasing. But this message isn’t getting through.
Taking strike action would fall flat right now. If you think what the right-wing press is like when there is nothing GPs have done wrong, imagine what they will be like when greedy GPs are withdrawing labour despite being paid £100k a year. The Government will rub their hands.
There are other forms of industrial action, like non-cooperation with certain parts of the contract. But these will barely register with NHS England or the Government (and will also give the right-wing press the opportunity to conflate industrial action and striking in the minds of the public).
This might be a bitter pill, but the best strategy the profession can do now is prepare for the 2024 contract negotiations with a single voice. The BMA should have April 2024 in flashing neon lights. They should extensively listen to the whole profession, and not just those in the GPC itself. They should think radically – chop off parts of the contract. That might be removal of PCNs, but it might be an even more fundamental part of the contract (more on that next week).
Although I don’t believe that the profession should be taking industrial action now, it is incredibly helpful that ARM voted that way. The GPC should approach 2024 with a full arsenal of weapons: a clear mandate for negotiating having surveyed the profession; a potential willingness to sacrifice funding for a large chunk of workload to be removed; and, yes, the threat of industrial action if the NHS ignores their reasonable demands.
Two years may feel like a long time, but getting this contract right will determine the future of the profession. No pressure, GPC negotiators.