GPs threaten industrial action over Govt plans for face-to-face appointments

21 October 2021, 20:51 | Updated: 21 October 2021, 21:01

The measures would give patients the right to demand face-to-face GP appointments
The measures would give patients the right to demand face-to-face GP appointments. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

GPs in England are threatening to take industrial action over Government plans to force them to see patients face-to-face.

The British Medical Association's (BMA) GP committee voted to formally reject the package of measures, which, among other things, would see GPs surgeries 'named and shamed' for failing to provide in-person appointments when requested by patients.

The committee is also opposing plans which could see GPs' wages published if they earn more than £150,000 per year, and is encouraging GPs not to comply with what it called the "very worst" aspects of the plans - which include the intention to 'name and shame' practises as well as spending more time on bureaucratic process.

The vote could mean doctors at the 6,600 practices across England will reduce their work in protest of the plans, although the BMA insisted that services including the Covid vaccination programme and annual flu plan will not be affected by the decisions.

Read more: Call the GP and demand to see them face-to-face: Shake-up to slash phone appointments

"GPs have been left with no alternative but to take this action," said Chair of the BMA GP Committee, Dr Richard Vautrey.

"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."

Dr Vautrey said the Government had "completely ignored" their requests for a "reduction in bureaucracy to allow us to focus more on patient care".

He added: "The ultimate outcome should be to end the current crisis in general practice, to properly support practices to manage their workload pressure, including safely getting through the backlog of care caused by the pandemic and deliver a safe service to patients, allowing time to create an agreed long-term plan to make general practice sustainable for the future."

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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "GPs have done phenomenal work done through the most difficult 18 months in living memory.

"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 £250 million 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."

As part of the plans, announced last week, patients will be given a new right to demand face-to-face appointments and GP surgeries which fail to provide an appropriate level of "access" will be named and shamed in league tables.

The NHS is ploughing millions of pounds into the new package of measures aimed at improving access to GPs, but practices which fail to provide an "appropriate" level of face-to-face appointments will not be eligible for the new funding.

Patients will be able to rate their GP practice's performance via text message.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid thanked GPs for their "enormous efforts" during the coronavirus pandemic but said he was "determined" to make sure patients could see their doctors "in the way they want".

"Our new plan provides general practice teams with investment and targeted support," said Mr Javid.

"This will tackle underperformance, taking pressure off staff so they can spend more time with patients and increase the number of face-to-face appointments.

"Alongside this we are setting out more measures to tackle abuse and harassment so staff at GP surgeries who work so tirelessly to care for patients can do so without having to fear for their safety."

Watch: 'Shouting, screaming, spitting!': GP explains shocking daily abuse he faces

Read more: 'Caring and charismatic' law student dies after being denied face-to-face GP appointment

The plans, which will see the NHS "increase its oversight" of practices and "enhance transparency and accountability", were criticised from the off, with Dr Vautrey saying last week the measures would "force many GPs to hang up their stethoscopes and leave the profession for the last time."