Are GPs going on strike? Why are they threatening industrial action - new NHS contract hours impact explained

Doctors have threatened to strike over new contracts which force practices to open on Saturdays and weekends

GPs have threatened to strike over plans to make them work on Saturdays and evenings.

Doctors at the British Medical Association (BMA) have vowed to act if a new NHS contract that forces them to offer appointments at evenings and weekends is not axed.

GPs have threatened to strike over plans to make them work on Saturdays and evenings (Photo: Getty Images)GPs have threatened to strike over plans to make them work on Saturdays and evenings (Photo: Getty Images)
GPs have threatened to strike over plans to make them work on Saturdays and evenings (Photo: Getty Images)

Medics called on BMA leaders to “organise opposition” to the contract at the annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday (28 June), “including industrial action if necessary”.

In total, 57% of members backed industrial action, with 26% abstaining and 17% voting against.

Other parts of the motion were also passed, including calling on the BMA to organise withdrawal of GP practices from Primary Care Networks (PCNs) by 2023, with 61% voting in favour.

PCNs involve groups of GP practices working with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services in their local areas.

Some GPs claim that PCNs dilute the quality of patient care and argue they are a “Trojan horse” for undermining general practice.

They say that PCN funding should instead form part of the core GP contract.

What are the contract changes?

NHS England announced changes to the 2022/23 GP contract in March, saying doctors needed to make at least 25% of appointments available for online booking and opening hours needed to be lengthened.

The changes mean GPs would need to offer appointments from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays, and stay open until 8pm on weekdays.

The BMA criticised the contract and said NHS England had refused to offer practices reimbursement to cover additional costs for national insurance contributions, which will lead to cuts in staffing.

BMA members already voted in favour of industrial action last November in an indicative ballot.

Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP from Tower Hamlets in London, who proposed the overall motion, said there was a need to protect the existing contract from “vultures” and PCNs should be “abolished along with all the box-ticking”.

She said: “We can’t trust this government to protect general practice or indeed the wider NHS.

“They’ve been in power for 12 years, but things are only getting worse.”

Ms Applebee said that GPs should be held accountable for any shift funding and “should not be able to pare services back to the minimum so that we can pop into the local Porsche showroom”.

She added: “I know some of you will be worried about industrial action, but how much more can we take? We should take our lead from the RMT – they have quite rightly said ‘enough is enough, no more pay erosion, no more safety cuts’.”

She said “solidarity to them” and urged medics to channel their “inner Mick Lynch”, in reference to the RMT leader.

Dr Reshma Syed, a GP partner from Kent, said: “Make no mistake, GPs are fighting a war for their very existence.

“Primary Care Network was a Trojan horse brought in by the government, a ploy designed to mislead us, remove funding from core general practice and divert our attention away from quality patient care.

“PCN is only the start of the dismemberment of general practice, piece by piece. They (the government) work to destroy the GMS contract and independent contract status as we know it.

“They want to create mistrust amongst our patients and destroy that unique relationship.

“They want to invest in every other allied health professional and not in the GP … Why? Because they are hell-bent on the privatisation of the NHS through the back door.”

How likely is a GP strike?

A new ballot would be needed for industrial action to happen and more than 50% of eligible GP members would have to vote in favour.

It is unlikely that GPs would stop providing emergency and urgent care, but they could refuse to carry out other routine work and could cut their hours.

The BMA council would have to agree for a full ballot to take place, so a potential strike is not likely to happen any time soon.

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