All formal talks between the BMA’s GP committee and NHS England have been suspended since May, when GP leaders passed a vote of no confidence in the health service leadership and called for a freeze on negotiations.
The vote of no confidence was triggered by a demand from NHS officials for GP practices to offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who want them – a demand that infuriated GPs after NHS England had previously been seen to fuel a false media narrative around practices being ‘closed’ during the pandemic.
New NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard took over from the outgoing Sir Simon Stevens at the start of August – in what the BMA called a ‘pivotal time’ for the health service. The BMA called at the time her appointment was announced for the new NHS chief to demonstrate a willingness to take the side of NHS staff in discussions with the government.
BMA leaders also called the appointment of Ms Pritchard an opportunity for the health service to ‘reset’ its relationship with GPs.
Since talks were paused in May, a series of clashes between NHS England and the BMA’s GP leaders over key policy plans have shed light on the potential impact of the breakdown in their relationship.
In June a £20m weight management enhanced service rolled out by NHS England was condemned by the BMA as ‘fundamentally flawed’ within hours of its publication. In July, GP leaders condemned NHS England for ‘ignoring’ general practice after officials suggested COVID-19 booster jabs would be delivered at PCN level rather than from individual practices.
Former health and social care secretary Matt Hancock had urged NHS and BMA leaders to rebuild their relationship before he resigned early this summer.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said after meeting Ms Pritchard: ‘I was pleased to meet the new chief executive of NHS England and Improvement so soon after her appointment. We discussed the many issues impacting general practice, not least the significant workload pressures we are all experiencing as we deal with the impact of the pandemic and the NHS care backlog.
‘It was a positive discussion and I stressed the importance of supporting general practice both with words and action, something she seemed to take on board.
‘We hope that this constructive exchange will be the first steps along the road that paves the way for further work to rebuild our relations with NHS England after the last few fractious months.’