A doctors' leader has warned that GPs could protest against the government's planned pension reforms by refusing to prescribe generic drugs, and that this would "blow budgets out of the sky within a month."
Prescribing much more expensive brand-name drugs only would not affect patient care but would cause a great deal of inconvenience to the government, and would be a preferred way for GPs to register their protests at the proposed pension cuts, according to Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association (FDA).
Dr Swinyard was reported by GP Online as saying that while he would be "very, very sad" if GPs had to take industrial action over the pensions issue, other options for them could include refusing to sign sick notes for government employees - or alternatively signing them all off for three months - not signing death certificates, referring more patients for second opinions and refusing to take part in clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
The British Medical Association (BMA) recently made clear its support for the planned day of action over public service pensions, set for November 30, but also said it was not appropriate to ballot its members on industrial action at this point.
Chairman of council Dr Hamish Meldrum said the BMA shares "the intense anger of all NHS staff about the way in which the government is attempting to bring about wide-ranging changes to our pensions without genuine negotiation."
"Doctors and other NHS staff will be expected to work longer, pay higher monthly contributions and yet receive a considerably lower pension - and all this is despite a complete overhaul of the NHS pension scheme in 2008 which protects the taxpayer from future cost increases and leaves the scheme delivering a surplus to the Treasury," said Dr Meldrum.
He added that the BMA is "certainly not ruling out industrial action of some kind in the future but, for doctors especially, it will always be a last resort in order to protect their patients."
Meantime, the Dispensing Doctors Association (DDA) is urging its members to get the support of their Members of Parliament (MPs) in their fight against the Department of Health's refusal to repay them the £8.6 million underpaid on 2010-11's £168.7 million dispensing fee envelope or to increase the fee scale element of the 2011-12 payment by the agreed 3.21%.
The DDA says the Department has reneged on a negotiated settlement, and that because of its members' prescribing efficiency, they are now £8.6 million out of pocket. The BMA's General Practitioners' Committee (GPC) is seeking urgent talks with the NHS Executive (NHSE) on the issue.
"It is our argument that dispensing doctors have been cognisant of the need for prescribing and dispensing efficiency, but now the Department is penalising us for that," says GPC negotiating team member Dr David Bailey.
The GPC has also said that much as it would like to resolve the issue through negotiation, it is not ruling out a formal contract dispute and a judicial review of the Department's decision.