'Kick in the teeth' for patients as doctors threaten industrial action: BMA votes unanimously to reject plans to improve patients' access to GPs

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Doctors threatened industrial action  in the row over face-to-face appointmentsLast week the Health Secretary unveiled a nine-point package to help patientsHe told GPs they can only deny in-person consultations if there is clinical reasonBut the BMA last night instructed all 6,600 GP practices to defy the proposals 

Doctors threatened industrial action last night in a dramatic escalation in the row over face-to-face appointments.

The British Medical Association voted unanimously to reject plans aimed at improving patients’ access to GPs.

They claimed they ‘had no alternative’ but to hold a ballot on industrial action to reduce the volume of work required of family doctors.

Last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled a nine-point package to help patients, telling GPs they can only deny in-person consultations if there is a good clinical reason.

But the BMA last night instructed all 6,600 GP practices to defy the proposals – a move described as ‘a kick in the teeth’ by campaigners. The union said doctors should refuse to participate in the ‘naming and shaming’ of GP surgeries which fail to see enough patients in person.

Doctors threatened industrial action last night in a dramatic escalation in the row over face-to-face appointments, described as a 'kick in the teeth for millions of patients' (stock image)

Doctors threatened industrial action last night in a dramatic escalation in the row over face-to-face appointments, described as a ‘kick in the teeth for millions of patients’ (stock image)

As well as refusing to comply with the Government’s new measures, the BMA’s GP committee backed industrial action over two specific requirements in their new contract.

They plan to ballot members on whether GPs should refuse to comply with new rules on ‘pay transparency’, which would mean those earning over £150,000 are named.

GPs will also be balloted on whether they should refuse to oversee medical exemptions for people who cannot get vaccinated, which doctors say adds to their workload.

The threat of industrial action represents the first major clash between the BMA and ministers since the junior doctors’ strike five years ago. Patient groups warned that the ‘provocative move’ risked plunging the NHS into deeper crisis, causing misery for the millions trapped on record waiting lists.

The Daily Mail has been campaigning for a return to face-to-face GP appointments as default amid concerns the move to online appointments during the pandemic has led to diseases including cancer being missed.

Before the pandemic, 80 per cent of appointments were in person. But now this has fallen to just 57 per cent.

Last week the Government unveiled a £250million support package as part of a nine-point plan to ensure all patients can see a doctor in person if they want.

But at a meeting yesterday the BMA’s GP committee formally rejected the measures and encouraged doctors not to comply with the ‘worst aspects’ of the plan.

Last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) unveiled a nine-point package to help patients, telling GPs they can only deny in-person consultations if there is a clinical reason

Last week Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) unveiled a nine-point package to help patients, telling GPs they can only deny in-person consultations if there is a clinical reason

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the committee, said: ‘GPs have been left with no alternative but to take this action. All efforts to persuade the Government to introduce a workable plan, that will bring immediate and longer-term improvement for doctors and their patients, have so far come to nought.

‘The Government has completely ignored our requests for a reduction in bureaucracy to allow us to focus more on patient care, and we are therefore encouraging doctors to withdraw from this bureaucracy.’

The BMA is calling for the Government to negotiate a new contract that reduces their workload and provides greater funding. But Dennis Reed, from patient campaign group Silver Voices, said: ‘Patients seem to have been forgotten in this unsavoury battle.

‘If doctors take industrial action it is the patients who will suffer and end up as collateral damage.

‘This latest escalation from the BMA is a very immature stamping of the feet, and is a kick in the teeth for millions of patients who just want to see their GP in person.

‘I would urge both sides to get round the table and sort it out in a mature discussion. If the doctors continue to throw a strop then there’s bound to be an impact on waiting lists, patients and A&Es.

‘This provocative move is the last thing the NHS needs at the moment. Sajid Javid must get a grip on the situation.’

But at a meeting yesterday the BMA’s GP committee formally rejected the measures and encouraged doctors not to comply with the ‘worst aspects’ of the plan, with chairman of the committee, Dr Richard Vautrey (pictured), saing GPs have been left with 'no alternative'

But at a meeting yesterday the BMA’s GP committee formally rejected the measures and encouraged doctors not to comply with the ‘worst aspects’ of the plan, with chairman of the committee, Dr Richard Vautrey (pictured), saing GPs have been left with ‘no alternative’

The move came as a report by the health watchdog concluded some patients have been excluded from vital care as a result of the shift away from face-to-face GP appointments. The Care Quality Commission said remote consultations have meant ‘some struggled to get the appointments they needed’ in the past year, especially the elderly and disabled. The report noted that digital services have been ‘beneficial for many people’ but that others found video and online appointments ‘frustrating’.

It added: ‘Findings from our inspections have noted issues with telephone systems, resulting in long hold times, people being cut off while waiting, and repeated engaged tones causing frustration for people trying to get through.

‘Some have told us they felt they had to advocate for themselves to get access to the care they were seeking, for instance chasing up referral requests, prescription requests or discussing with a receptionist why they need an appointment. At times people have felt their concerns or symptoms were not being taken seriously. Among those people who did see a GP, some told us that they could not see their preferred professional or were not offered a face-to-face appointment.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We want patients to be able to see their GP promptly and in the way they choose. Our plan will improve access and drive up face-to-face appointments – it includes providing a further £250million to GPs in order to boost capacity.

‘We are also cutting bureaucracy and GP teams will be given targeted support which will take pressure off staff and free up their time so it can be spent with patients. The number of full time equivalent doctors in general practice increased between March 2016 and March 2021 and, last year, a record-breaking number of doctors started training as GPs.’

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