GPs in England have voted in favour of taking limited industrial action to protest against a government drive to increase face-to-face appointments.
The British Medical Association held an indicative ballot to propose a series of actions, such as withholding information about how appointments take place so the government can’t “name and shame” surgeries for holding too few in-person appointments.
Four-fifths of doctors who voted were in favour of this action, while 84% said they would refuse to comply with issuing Covid-19 exemption certificates. These certificates are provided to individuals who remain unvaccinated on medical grounds but are required to show proof of vaccination for their job.
Fifty-eight percent of those who took part said they would support their practice withdrawing from their primary care network’s “directed enhanced service”, which covers GP visits to care homes and extra clinics.
Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said the ballot had been held because “relationships are broken and trust has been lost”, and that doctors feel “demoralised, broken and exhausted”.
GP practices were forced to deal with non-urgent cases via video or phone calls during the height of the pandemic, but the government has recently put pressure on them to revert to face-to-face where possible, threatening to ‘out’ the worst performing practices in this regard.
Latest NHS Digital GP appointments data shows that in-person appointments rose 13% in October, after a 26% increase in September from the month before. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has claimed, however, that it has seen an upturn in patients presenting at A&E departments because they can’t be seen by a doctor.
“Ultimately we don’t want to have to take action – we want to see action,” said Dr Jameel. “Every day we move from being applauded to being vilified, these sentiments stoked by biased media coverage, divisive policies and divisive politics.”
It remains to be seen if the proposed action will take place: there was a 35% response rate to the vote, despite every practice in England where a partner is a BMA member being eligible for the ballot.