The move comes after the BMA raises patient safety concerns that it says the Government’s emergency winter plan fails to address

A stressed male doctor with his head on his hands behind a pile of work.

GPs in England are to be balloted to find out if there would be support for industrial action over the winter ‘rescue’ plan.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has raised patient safety concerns over falling GP numbers and unsustainable workloads, and over rising levels of abuse of staff. It says that none of these problems are helped by the measures outlined in the winter plan to impose league tables for face-to-face appointments.

An indicative ballot will assess the mood for action in four areas:

  • disrupting appointment data collection, which may be used to ‘name and shame’ practices
  • not fulfilling contractual requirements to provide COVID-19 vaccination exemption certifications
  • disengaging from the Primary Care Network Direct Enhanced Service
  • not complying with requirements to submit GP earnings data.

Winter plan ‘will make matters a lot worse’

The Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said in a statement: ‘GP numbers are falling, and the total number of patients continues to rise. The workload, even without addressing the backlog, is now more than we can realistically and safely manage. Patient care is suffering as a result. It’s important to stress that these actions are not directed at patients, nor the care they receive, but absolutely at the Government and NHS England, and in the interests of patient safety, they must act now to stop the abuse, reverse the unsustainable workload, and address the burnout felt by so many GPs and their teams.

‘When you add to that the levels of bureaucracy we are expected to cope with, the time has come to say we cannot go on like this any more. Yet the Government and NHS England’s plan to solve this and support practices through the winter will make matters a lot worse.

‘The Government’s plan has simply added fuel to the fire in creating further bureaucracy and punitive measures for practices, and demoralised the whole workforce. Doctors want to use their time to look after their patients, not to meet artificial targets and do even more paperwork. 

‘Despite all attempts to work on a solution-focused package backed by the profession, and to put in place a plan that really would improve access and quality of care, free up time by reducing bureaucratic workload, and enable practices to properly care for their patients over this expected difficult winter, [the] DHSC’s recent comments have only added to the anger and desperation felt by the general practice workforce across England.’

The ballot results will be known in the coming weeks.

Expanding Scotland’s medical workforce

The Scottish Government is creating 139 new trainee doctor posts with £32 million funding to help in areas under greatest pressure from COVID-19 and with backlog recovery.

Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, said: ‘This significant expansion of trainee doctors underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to support the NHS, not only in response to the pandemic, but also as we look beyond and plan ahead to build long-term resilience. The additional posts in psychiatry, the first of which will commence in February, will also provide vital support to the delivery of mental health services.’

The Chair of the BMA’s Scottish Junior Doctor Committee, Dr Lailah Peel, welcomed the announcement, but said: ‘The relative scale of these increases compared with the challenges the workforce faces means we risk these junior doctors being used simply to plug gaps, given the current stretched state of the workforce, rather than to make a real difference to workforce shortages in both the short and long term.

‘There are also still considerable consultant vacancies in Scotland, along with that huge pressure on the workforce, and as such we need to ensure there is sufficient time and resources for training both the junior doctors we already have and the additional posts.

‘Without our senior counterparts, that will be a very difficult task to do.’

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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