GP practices have been advised by the BMA to cancel any clinics scheduled for GP trainees on days when junior doctors are striking, in preparation for the impact of industrial action.
They have also been advised not to schedule GP trainees to be duty doctors, on-call, on triage or to be working in any equivalent roles on these days.
It comes after junior doctors in England voted to take strike action over pay earlier this month. The first round is taking place over a 72-hour period on 13, 14 and 15 March.
The strike action, which includes GP trainees, is a full walkout, meaning trainees will not be seeing patients or performing administration work on these days.
In guidance published on Friday (3 March) on how industrial action will affect GP practices, the BMA said: ‘We know some patients are booked into clinics in advance and we are also aware that some important results ordered by GP trainees may come into the practice on strike days.
‘We would suggest having an early conversation with your trainees to identify any patients who may need to have their appointments rescheduled or who may require urgent action on the days of industrial action.’
It added that while GP trainees are an important part of the practice team, they are ‘supernumerary to the workforce’ of the practice.
‘At no point should the effective running of the practice be dependent on the attendance of GP trainees, and they should not be used as a substitute for a locum in the practice,’ warned the BMA advice.
‘Whilst trainees continue to be expected to provide valuable clinical services whilst in training, they are not generally considered a part of the workforce in terms of required staffing levels.’
Impact on exams
The BMA added that strike action could potentially impact GP trainees’ Recorded Consultation Assessment (RCA), which is a summative assessment of a GP trainee’s clinical ability to consult with patients. It uses pre-recorded audio and video consultations to assess the trainee from their third year of training or beyond.
Practices should be aware that some trainees may be anxious about this as many of the recordings for the exam are often collected in the final weeks preceding the submission date, which this year is 21 March.
The BMA advised practices to speak to their trainees about the impact of the strikes on the RCA submission ‘as soon as possible’ and to make ‘pragmatic arrangements’, so that trainees can demonstrate their competencies for the exam.
The BMA said: ‘These pragmatic arrangements may include: scheduling extra clinics, moving non-RCA related educational sessions after 21 March, or intensively identifying patients to add to a trainee’s clinic list in order to achieve the correct mix of pathology required for the RCA.’
Picket lines outside GP practices
The BMA also encouraged GP trainees not to picket outside their GP practices but instead join demonstrations at their local hospitals.
This is despite rules in the picketing code of practice, which say those undertaking industrial action are only able to join picket lines at their usual place of work, which would mean GP trainees picketing at their practice.
However, the BMA said that since the ‘fight’ is not with practices, GP trainees are encouraged to join protests at local hospitals where the majority of junior doctors are expected to demonstrate.
Despite this, practices have been encouraged to visibly demonstrate their support for striking GP trainees, ‘given the importance of the success of this action for the whole profession’.
The BMA said this support could include displaying posters in waiting rooms, sharing information with patients on why industrial action is taking place, wearing badges or stickers showing support and changing patient-facing messaging on strike days to communicate what is happening.
The BMA has also advised that:
- GP trainees not attend their practice at all on striking days.
- There should be no changes to or cancellations of the educational elements of GP trainees’ rotas during industrial action.
- GP educators involved in the delivery of half day release teaching (HDR) should presume that HDR will occur as normal and plan accordingly.