More implied threats of industrial action will only lead to inaction, argues Jaimie Kaffash
We are not currently the BMA’s favourite publication. Our reports on motions and leaked WhatsApp messages have understandably left negotiators angry, as the quote from the England GP Committee deputy chair yesterday suggests. Indeed, we have become the ‘Daily Mail’ of the GP publishing world.
From Pulse’s point of view, we do believe that these stories are in the public interest – the GPC is negotiating for the benefit of grassroots GPs, and they deserve to know what action is being taken by their elected representatives about the current contract that they are subject to and has been imposed on them.
But you know what? I have sympathy for negotiators’ frustration at us and at these discussions becoming public. It would be easier for their strategy if they were able to discuss it without this fear.
The problem with this is that the GPC’s strategy is flawed. Their press release threatened ‘industrial action if “disastrous” changes to their working contract… are not reviewed in the coming months’. This was widely interpreted as strike action, or closure for the day – including by our (ahem) sister title, the Daily Mail. And I have no doubt this was the intention, especially in the current climate where other parts of the BMA membership are taking strike action.
Yet this is an empty threat – GPs will simply never take strike action. As I have argued before, unlike with nurses, junior doctors, paramedics or teachers, postal workers and railway staff, GPs closing for the day doesn’t have an obvious impact – especially as they will certainly continue to offer urgent appointments. A day of closure just makes a terrible system that bit worse.
On top of this, the headlines will no doubt revolve around no one noticing they are shut, and there are legal and financial issues – for partners, this isn’t just a lost day of their own earnings, they will still need to pay their staff.
I have sympathy for those pushing for strike action, because they are desperate for change. But the truth is, this will never be on the table and this was confirmed at the GPC meeting last week.
If I wasn’t already annoying enough to GPC negotiators, I am going to make myself even more annoying. Because while I am pointing out why their strategy is flawed, I am not offering any solutions. Once again, I have sympathy – the GPC is a collection of 70-odd GPs with 71 opinions. To get a consensus is hard enough, even when there is an obvious solution.
But there does need to be more realism here. Threaten ‘industrial action’, but at least be clear what this means. Could it be withdrawal from PCNs? Or creative solutions, such as referring, say, all diabetes patients to secondary care? Or will they yet again consider undated resignations? Or working to rule?
These strategies all have flaws, but they will at least pave out some concrete steps that can provide some hope to GPs who are at the end of their tether. Because the fudge of a motion and the following press release could simply be ignored by the Government. As a product of a specially convened meeting, it represented a waste of time and was in fact a restatement of existing policy.
There needs to be another way, because more implied threats of days of action will only have the effect of complete inaction.