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Editor's blog Tuesday 16 June 2009: the post-Confed rush - faith in the BMA or the BBC?

A quick one, more later as workload does not abate.

The BMA has issues the following press statement: Responding to misleading suggestions in the media that the BMA has said some GPs could ‘strike’ over fears they will not be insured during a flu pandemic, Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, said: “The BMA has issued joint guidance with the Royal College of General Practitioners to help GP practices plan how they will work during a flu pandemic. GPs are not considering and have never considered strike action over this issue and the BMA would not support such action. Media reports claiming this to be the case are wholly inaccurate. Indeed the evidence so far is that GPs in areas where there have been outbreaks have pulled out all the stops for their patients and I have complete faith that this will continue to be the case.

“A flu pandemic will put huge strain on the NHS and doctors will be working in exceptional circumstances, which is why the BMA has been working closely with the UK governments to plan for and ensure the smooth running of the service during a pandemic. The issue of death in service for locums is one of the few areas still to be ironed out, it affects a minority of GPs and we are working to resolve it quickly.”

Dr Buckman seems to be talking about this story on BBC News Online, which reported Dr Dean Marshall, one of the BMA's lead negotiators on flu planning, as saying, "Doctors will be putting their lives on the line and it is only right they can feel assured they are properly covered if anything goes wrong.  A locum could die at the weekend and their family might not get a pay-out. That is not fair and could make some think twice about helping out.

"We don't want to be going into it with GPs feeling unsure where they stand. Doctors are only human and some will not want to go on the front line. The problem is that the current cover expects GPs to act in a certain way. For example, if someone has a heart attack we should send them to hospital, but during the pandemic hospitals could be full and this may not be possible. Our fear is that later on people may sue us."

If it comes down to a pissing contest between the BMA and the BBC, it is probably sensible to assume that the media organisation can get its message across more easily. That means the BMA requires caution. Any statement from Dr Marshall is notable by its absence. I have asked the BMA press office to confirm whether Dr Marshall is claiming that he has been misquoted, and will post their reply on receipt.

The ever-interesting NHS Blog Doctor considered the topic yesterday, helpfully disaggregating the issues between death in service benefits and adequate professional indemnity insurance under the Medical Protection Society et al. Dr Crippen's commenters take up the point.

Is there a point to the story? There is probably a useful thought about adequate insurance for locum GPs, of whom the number is increasing. However, the inference that GPs would be likely to strike in a worsening of the swine flu situation is, as Dr Crippen notes in clinically precise terminology, "bollocks". Most GPs are in the medicine game for pretty honourable motives.

It is a Scary Story for the general public. It is not particularly enlightening.  It is a cautionary tale for GP locums only. Its broader relevance is overstated and unclear.

So overall, the BMA looks more right than the BBC. However, much depends on what Dr Marshall actually said.